MUSIC / Orpheus Chamber Orchestra - Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
This is the American orchestra where nobody conducts and everybody has a say. As usual, the weekend's visit brought playing that was alive on every level, precise but never slick. A slight rigidity of tempo is the cost. When a dominant individual does take part - such as Alfred Brendel, soloist on Saturday in Beethoven's First Piano Concerto - a new dimension of freedom and subtlety at once appears in the pacing.

Brendel's would have been an exceptional presence in any event. He made you believe that 'traditional' performances like this really had been more exciting, in the days before we became self-conscious about proper historical style. They hardly ever were quite like this, though. Who else could fit such urgency of detail into a long-range view of thrilling cumulative energy? Sure of its goals, the playing could dare to expand lyrically without for a moment losing the thread. Moments such as the assault on the finale's central episode, at once furious and comic, will stay in the memory for years - far longer than the drastic memory blackout that wrecked the approach to the end (a conductor, ironically, would have sorted things out much faster).

The Orpheus's intensity will also have opened a few ears to the expressive potential of the Schoenberg school. That included mine, in the case of the problematic Chamber Symphony No 2: the music's strange self- destruction for once seemed an inevitable climax of alarming power.

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