OAE/LSO Chorus/Elder, Barbican, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

In the 1820s, Beethoven and Rossini virtually divided the musical world between them. But where Beethoven was universally deemed the most difficult living master, it was the young bon viveur the public flocked to hear for his irrepressible high spirits. Yet this inspiriting Barbican bill by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under Mark Elder reversed the balance, pitting Beethoven at his most unbuttoned against Rossini at his most severe - well, some of the time.

Actually, Beethoven unbuttoned is rarely Beethoven untidy. On the contrary, he is often at his most terse and pointed as Elder and the OAE brought home with the perfect match of precision and sweep with which they pitched into the opening figure of the Symphony No 8 in F major, Op 93. This was a reading wonderfully alive to the dynamic structure Beethoven builds from the simplest tonal and rhythmic elements. And, having dispatched the first three movements with such precision, Elder was able to release an exhilarating sense of how the finale almost bursts its bounds after all.

Composed spasmodically, Rossini's 45-minute Stabat Mater emerged in 1842 as the major score of his prolonged mid-life crisis of illness and semi-retirement. And it begins with the grim starkness of a Cherubini. Then the tenor pitches into a jaunty march tune as if to confirm that Rossini could never have kept that up for long. Except that the tune soon runs into ambiguous chromatic harmonies, as do all the apparently stock operatic frills and formulae that comprise the solo items, while the choral numbers remain uncomp-romising, so that by the time we reach the "Amen" of almost Verdian fierceness we realise Rossini has honoured the text as authentically as any composer.

Given that the massed LSO chorus was in particularly strong and focused form, it was fascinating to hear how clearly the period instruments of the OAE came through in Rossini's often elaborate scoring compared with many a louder, but more homogenous-sounding modern orchestra. In fact, the whole reading had the conviction of rediscovery.

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