Review: Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

Whether someone said something in the interval, or ears somehow adjusted, the second half of the OAE’s all-Bach concert came over better than the first.

It has to be said, the wide open spaces of the City Hall make it a far from ideal venue for an orchestra of seven strings (five high, two low), two oboes, a bassoon, chamber organ and harpsichord – John Butt, directing proceedings from it – performing on period instruments.

There was no denying the quality of the playing when it was capable of being heard, least of all the oboe heroics of Daniel Lanthier throughout, though the violins’ tone was a touch too thin more often than not. Perhaps a little unfair to say in the circumstances!

Actually, the two oboes came over with the greatest consistency and had Bach’s lovely obbligato trio ‘cantabile’ section in the lengthy, opening Sinfonia to Cantata No 42 to themselves with the bassoon inaudible.

Maybe Pamela Thorby’s recorder in the Brandenburg No 2 would have been had she not been at the front of stage where it still sounded recessed but just about audible enough to appreciate her artistry on the instrument.

No problems, however, hearing the estimable playing of David Blackadder on his natural (valveless) trumpet. Cue: the evening’s most important soloists, the four singers taking on Bach’s so-called ‘Lutheran’ Masses No’s 3 and 4.

As the single-voice, SATB choir Mary Bevan, Meg Bragle, Thomas Hobbs and Edward Grint were a superbly balanced, extremely well integrated quartet and generally came over best in the ‘Missa’ No 4 (post interval!), the final Cum Sancto Spiritu being astonishingly brought off!

Matters were a little hit and miss in the arias with projection clarity at a premium as voices were swallowed up in the acoustic. When they were not, it was clear that four first-rate singers with admirable voices were on duty.


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