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Music of the Spheres

Aurora Orchestra/Nicholas Collon et al (DG)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Music of the Spheres
Mozart: Symphony No. 41 in C major, K551 ‘Jupiter’; Max Richter: Journey (CP1919); Dowland (Arr. Nico Muhly): Time Stands Still*; Thomas Adès: Violin Concerto ‘Concentric Paths’^; Bowie: Life On Mars?**
*Iestyn Davies (countertenor); ^Pekka Kuusisto (violin), **Sam Swallow (voice, piano); Aurora Orchestra/Nicholas Collon
DG 483 8229   67:37 mins

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Nicholas Collon’s Aurora Orchestra are past masters at putting together eclectic and exciting concerts, yet this celestially-themed selection, recorded from a concert programme first played on tour last year before the skewed reality of the lockdown made all that sort of thing seem further from reach than even the nearest star, doesn’t quite hit previous heights.

There is a wonderful and fundamental visual theatricality to Aurora performances – the standing musicians, the playing by memory, the drama, the lights, and so on – that is necessarily lost on disc, unless, as conductor Nicholas Collon wittily suggests in the sleeve notes, you turn off the lights for the new commission, Max Richter’s pulsar-inspired Journey (CP1919), which stipulates that the musicians perform in the dark as if floating off to the magnetised neutron star in question. Collon doesn’t say whether they recorded it in the dark, incidentally, but I’m not sure it would have made much difference.

You will also need to channel the thrill of seeing Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony No. 41, which is the springboard for the whole, played by memory – which it was here – although there’s much vigorous enjoyment in the listening. Inbetween, Iestyn Davies sings Nico Muhly’s arrangement of Dowland’s ‘Time Stands Still’ before Thomas Adès’s stratospheric Violin Concerto Concentric Paths, always questioning, played here with brilliance by Pekka Kuusisto. Sam Swallow sings David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’, a somewhat low-key finish to an album which, for all its committed performances, doesn’t hang together as well it did on the concert stage.

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Sarah Urwin Jones