The Works: OAE with Richard Tognetti

Can music and talk mix?

The Works: OAE with Richard Tognetti

A hand shot up in the front stalls. ‘Could you stop talking and let them get on with the music?’ came a testy voice. Ever the gracious host, presenter Rachel Leach explained that this was at a different sort of concert; that The Works is designed to give people a background to a piece through discussions and demonstrations before it is performed.

Ouch. The Orchestra of the Age of the Enlightenment had worked hard, splitting a residency with Australian virtuoso Richard Tognetti into three different ‘experiences’: tonight's The Works, an informal Night Shift afterwards at 9pm (complete with free student bar) and a full-blown concert the following night (25 November). The trouble is, audiences don’t always get it. Our dissenter (or ‘misinformed music snob’ as I find him described on the Twittersphere) was clearly at the wrong event.

Even so, he may have had a point: Dvořák’s captivating Serenade ‘speaks’ with such immediacy that we all could have done with more of it to warm up. Instead, we had a tentative and rhythmically sluggish opening which fizzled to a halt. It wasn’t a compelling illustration of how Dvořák had succeeded in ‘getting the serenade form back on track’ in Leach’s words.

She may come across as a cheery classical Tess Daly, but Leach is a talented composer herself and her points of structural, melodic and rhythmic analysis were all spot on. Her work with children colours her vocabulary (there were a lot of ‘sandwiches’ to describe form) but she had the audience clapping a hemiola, while recognising the way themes interlinked and the peasant significance of Dvořák’s quicksilver five-bar waltz melody.

From the appreciative feedback online, she succeeded in pitching it right for many. Still, more input from the players would have helped to loosen up what’s supposed to be an informal event (drinks allowed). The OAE prides itself on its use of historically-appropriate instruments, but we never heard the rationale behind the mix presented here. Why, for example, was principal cellist Robin Michaels using an apparently modern cello set-up while his partner Catherine Rimer played without a spike (there were times, too, when Michaels’s more powerful cello could be clearly heard over the others). Tognetti himself looked surprisingly self-conscious, and only answered questions about his own arrangements; it would have been interesting to hear how he had chosen to adapt his own playing to this orchestra.

Eventually, the Serenade was allowed off the leash and we heard the final three movements straight through, cohering into a splendidly feisty finale. It’s a notoriously exposing piece and they took a while to achieve a blend.  Harpist Tanya Houghton took centre stage for Tognetti’s arrangement of Grieg’s heady Erotik, for which he produced a gorgeous, ripe tone, and Elgar’s wistful Sospiri, where judicious portamenti tugged at the heart. It was an inspired risk to try Mahler’s Adagietto from the Fifth Symphony with just 21 strings: to achieve a still, shimmering pianissimo requires many more. But by taking it at the composer’s original, swifter tempo, Tognetti inspired a chamber performance of intense, fragile beauty. 


The Works returns on 3 February 2015, with Mozart’s Serenade in B flat at Queen Elizabeth Hall. Visit: to find out more




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  • Article Type: | Blog |
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