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Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, 14 May 2024 (Susan Elkin reviews)

Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique

Dinis Sousa

St Martin’s-in-the-Fields

14 May 2024

Part of a week-long Beethoven cycle, this concert presented Beethoven’s second and third symphonies – with all the energy, verve and passion that are the hallmarks of Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique (ORR). Yes, it’s a world of original instruments – valveless horns, woodwind instruments made of wood, few cello spikes, gut strings and bows mostly held above the nut – and that’s what makes the music sound so gloriously fresh.

Sousa is a highly sensitive conductor who brought nippy urgency to the opening movement of the second symphony (1801). The fullness of sound sat very well in the rich acoustic of St Martin’s and yet the alert eye contact between front desks made if feel like chamber music. He is also very good at balance: the interlocking melodies in the larghetto including the running scales in the strings and the flute arpeggios, for example. After some attractive intersectional dialogue in the third movement he launched the Allegro Molto  finale at a cracking speed but also brought out  smiley insouciance.

And so, after the interval,to the wonders of the Eroica Symphony in which the precision was rapier-sharp. The opening movement stands or falls, in my view, on the groundbreaking (for 1803) climactic, discordant, off-beat horn chords which were splendidly played here. I noticed the three section members exchanging happy little grins during the passage which follows so I think they were pleased with their big moment too. Another delight was outstanding work from the timpanist in this movement.

In the funeral march Sousa made sure we heard the growling double bass motifs at the start and at the recap, which is rare because they are usually lost in the texture. He opened the third movement like a grewyhound out of a trap  and all credit, again to the horns for their valiant hunting calls in the trio-esque section. Then finally the interwoven fugal finale came with charm and Sousa extracted every ounce of heroic grandiloquence out of the final pages.

Despite the delicacy of their old or repro instruments, the fortissimi achieved by this orchestra can make the building, and one’s breast bone, vibrate almost as forcibly as an amplified pop group – from Row D, at least. And yet that is set against some of the most delicate pianissimi imaginable.

ORR was founded in 1989 by John Eliot Gardiner who conducted it, and the associated Monteverdi Choir, until recently. He has withdrawn from conducting for the moment because of an incident relating to anger management issues last year. I was struck forcibly at this concert by the phenomenal achievement of “his” organisation over the last 35 years. Nothing can detract from the strength and importance of that work – and it’s most encouraging to see the baton being grasped (literally) by a totally attuned younger man who can create such fine music with ORR, thus taking an important legacy forward.

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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