Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment: A Touch of Brass

As usual, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment provided the Queen Elizabeth Hall with an evening of top quality music, all by Mozart. Horn player Roger Montgomery was the outstanding soloist in the Fourth Horn Concerto.

London Music: 80s girl Nimneh Hyde and Roger Montgomery of the OAE © OAE / Eric Richmond
80s girl Nimneh Hyde and Roger Montgomery of the OAE © OAE / Eric Richmond
80s girl Nimneh Hyde and Roger Montgomery of the OAE
© OAE / Eric Richmond
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If Mozart were to apply for a job in this day and age, at the very top of his CV would read "Adaptable and able to turn my hand to any task". Tonight's concert – superbly performed by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment to a full house at the Queen Elizabeth Hall – demonstrates the composer's creative resourcefulness when it came to getting a commission, delivering the goods and ultimately, making money. All the while, the pressures of a crowded market, demanding patrons and an overbearing father were never far away.

On the other hand, "Forward-thinker and good time manager" probably wouldn't feature too high up in Mozart's metaphorical job application. The first piece in this evening's programme was his Symphony no. 36 in C major, written in a hurry while on his way home to Vienna after visiting his father in Salzburg. Mozart and his new wife Constanze scheduled to break their journey half way in Linz, where he was to give a concert for the local court. Since Mozart didn't have a symphony with him, he speedily wrote a new one in just a few days – although his haste is not at all evident in the work. Technically perfect, the OAE's sublime rendition of the symphony ticked all the boxes, with assured conductorless leading from Margaret Faultless. The first and last movements were full of contrast (both in dynamics and tone) and the Trio's oboe and bassoon melodies beautifully phrased. What really made me smile, however, were the lovely expressions from a violinist at the back of the seconds – who was clearly totally immersed in the music she was making.

Following a quick shuffle around during which the orchestra moved from standing to sitting, we were treated to Mozart's next fabulous party trick: the Horn Concerto no. 4, written (as were his others) for his good friend the virtuoso horn player Joseph Leutgeb. Roger Montgomery – the OAE's very own Leutgeb – impressed us with his composure and dexterity. The valveless horn is notoriously difficult to master; chromatic notes are produced by minuscule hand movements inside the bell of the instrument – known as hand-stopping – combined with tiny changes in embouchure. The perilously fast finale with its famous hunting calls hardly let the solo horn breathe, yet Montgomery took the musical gymnastics in his stride. He revealed a huge variety of tone colours, and a couple of split notes only proved how difficult the piece is for the natural horn. The orchestra provided a sensitive and discerning accompaniment to an outstanding solo performance.

The final work in the programme was the intriguing Serenade no. 9 (essentially an extended symphony), nicknamed "Posthorn" after the eponymous instrument's sudden entrance in the second Minuetto and Trio. The fourth movement in particular showed off some fine playing from the very full wind section. Although this Concertante is somewhat repetitive, the solos from flautist Lisa Beznosiuk and oboist Anthony Robson were exquisite as they led the delicate interactions within the section, deservedly taking our attention away from the strings for a good while. The highly unusual and dainty piccolo solo from Neil McLaren in the penultimate movement again made us lean forward and listen, while David Blackadder turned heads with his posthorn solo from the centre of the audience. If the piece sometimes lost its way in the middle movements, it was certainly brought back on track by the triumphant Presto finale.

As usual, the OAE provided us with an evening of top quality Mozartean music – full in the knowledge that they would perform most of the programme again an hour later at their Night Shift. What is unusual about the orchestra is the players' energy, sparkle and true joie de vivre that is evident when they perform. As my neighbour in the audience commented while the band modestly received a loud applause, "What a delight!"

Programme
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791), Symphony no. 36 in C, "Linz", K425
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791), Horn Concerto no. 4 in E flat major, K495
Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791), Serenade in D, "Posthorn", K320
Artists
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Margaret Faultless, Director
Roger Montgomery, Horn
An all-Mozart programme, centred around the composer's richly melodic Fourth Horn Concerto.

Margaret Faultless, leader of the OAE, directs this all-Mozart programme. The concert starts with Mozart's Linz Symphony, which despite being written in only a matter of days, is a graceful, thoughtful work with an unusually lively, skipping last movement.

Mozart's Posthorn Serenade is so-called as one movement features a valveless horn, the same type that was used in Mozart's day to signal the arrival of the postal coach.

The centre-piece of the evening is Mozart's lyrical Fourth Horn Concerto, featuring thrilling fanfares and brilliant dialogue between the solo instrument and orchestra.

Queen Elizabeth Hall at 5.45pm - OAE Extras. Andy Watts, Principal Bassoon, discusses posthorns, hunting horns, sackbuts, clarion, hand-stopping, beer, harmonics, bandstands and possibly tonight's concert, with players from the OAE brass section. Free.

Southbank Centre: Queen Elizabeth Hall

Belvedere Road
London Greater London United Kingdom SE1 8XX

Image credits:
80s girl Nimneh Hyde and Roger Montgomery of the OAE © OAE / Eric Richmond