The Night Shift/OAE/Podger, Queen Elizabeth Hall, London<img src="http://www.independent.co.uk/template/ver/gfx/twostar.gif" height="1" width="1"/><img src="http://www.independent.co.uk/template/ver/gfx/twostar.gif" height="10" width="47"/>

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The Independent Culture

Launched at 10pm on Monday by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment at a superficially altered QEH, The Night Shift was the third of the day's OAE events. It followed the start of a lively Italian Baroque series at the usual evening time. In the foyer were dimmed lights, cheap bar drinks and DJ Heart attempting to project his selection without the volume level for anybody to hear it. All interestingly atmospheric, though the buzz of a packed house was missing from what looked like a mix of OAE diehards and younger newcomers.

Calls of "please take your seats" blew the atmosphere away, and, as the audience scattered around the auditorium, a normal concert ambience returned. The players wandered in and sat down to chat with their friends in the stalls, which was novel if cumbersome - they needed tables and chairs. It was announced that the guest presenter, Pearl Lowe, wasn't coming, and the orchestra was summoned on stage to give a breathtakingly lovely performance of Handel's "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" - light, fast and glowing with the sounds of guitar and harpsichord.

Two members of management took over the presentation, and the show lapsed into a cheerfully shambolic school-concert mode. Little explanations and interviews punctuated the music; nobody realised that Rachel Podger, the OAE's director and leader for the evening, didn't have a mic. Other bouts of talk raised questions you never wanted to ask: how many people who didn't already know got the point of illustrating different Bach styles? Best by far were the interludes showing off the natural horns, the period-style guitar and the long-necked lute.

The speed of the audience's response to an impeccably timed and unfortunately cracked horn note suggested a large presence of music students. And the appreciative response to the performances, when they were allowed to happen, sounded like an audience that recognised top-class playing. The Vivaldi Concertos and Geminiani Variations continued the brilliance of the start and left us wanting more. Next time, cut the talk, and keep the show in the foyer.

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