Prom 21: Aurora Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall, review: 'Elegant and joyous in equal measure, this was much more than a gimmick'

The Aurora Orchestra first played symphony-from-memory in 2014 and it's now an annual Proms fixture

Alexandra Coghlan
Monday 01 August 2016 11:36 BST
Symphony-from-memory: The Aurora Orchestra impress at the Proms
Symphony-from-memory: The Aurora Orchestra impress at the Proms

The Aurora Orchestra’s symphony-from-memory has become an annual Proms fixture. The first time Nicholas Collon and his players set music-stands aside, in 2014, it was a curiosity, the second time still very much an oddity. Only now, third time round, can we stop marvelling at the feat of memory and start listening properly to the music.

Bursting out of the confines of symphonic form, Mozart’s "Jupiter" Symphony lends itself to the unbuttoned directness of a performance by heart. Fresh from their flashmob performance at the Stratford Westfield on Saturday, the Aurora musicians found a conversational intimacy and rhetoric in their delivery that made a salon out of the cavernous Royal Albert Hall. Textures were transparent, allowing us to glimpse enticing flashes of inner parts – a viola flourish, a grumble of bassoon – under the swirling orchestral skirts. Elegant and joyous in equal measure, this was much more than a gimmick.

Framing the Mozart, an uneven pair of musical bookends, were Wolfgang Rihm’s Gejagte Form – an uncompromising opener for a Prom aimed at families – and Richard Strauss’s ecstatic Oboe Concerto. Soloist Francoix Leleux, so articulate in his onstage interview, made his case even more persuasively with his instrument. From the opening entry, an aria by any other name, to the saucy little dance that sets the final movement swaying, Leleux seemed scarcely to draw breath, pouring out sounds by turns witty, forthright and fragile, but always beautiful. A performance of utmost generosity – a homage from one master musician to another.

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