ORR 25th Anniversary: The Times
The Times by Richard Morrison, 10 November 2014
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique at The Barbican, EC2

*****


I have never seen an orchestra rise to an occasion so literally. From the start of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony the upper strings of the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique were standing - infusing tremendous visual energy into a performance fizzing with the aural kind. Then, as the scherzo's transitional mists cleared and the finale's C major chords blazed out, the wind players rose to their feet as well.

OK, it did look a bit like the Glenn Miller Band, but the players had every reason for a celebratory gesture. It's been 25 years since John Eliot Gardiner founded the ORR, one of the first ensembles to bring the thrust and leanness of period instruments to 19th-century repertoire. Such bands are two a farthing now, of course, but any notion that the ORR and Gardiner have lost their cutting edge was dispelled by this sensational Berlioz and Beethoven.

The performances of the Symphony No. 5 was quite simply one of the most ebullient, pungently characterised and dazzlingly played that I have ever heard - and I've heard a few. As if slaying the ghosts of Klemperer and Furtwängler all over again, Gardiner took it at a hell of a lick, but that only inspired the strings in particular to thrust out their passagework with a ferocious muscularity no less startling for being streamlined.

The concert's first half was gentler but also magnificent, with two Berlioz works for soprano and orchestra - La Captive and the spine chilling La Mort de Cléopatre - sung by Anna Caterina Antonacci. She took a moment to attune herself to the orchestra's pitch, then uncorked such rich timbre and sang with such expressivity that these antique passions seemed to come alive in thin air. The orchestra responded by conjouring astonishing timbres out of Berlioz's notes. Here's to another 25 years of révolutionnaire et romantique music-making.

5 stars.

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