ORR 25th Anniversary: Financial Times
Financial Times by Richard Fairman, 11 November 2014
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique at The Barbican, London


John Eliot Gardiner’s ensemble marked its 25th birthday with a thrilling Beethoven performance.

The fall of the Berlin Wall was not the only turning point of 1989. After many years of period instruments fighting for acceptance in baroque and classical music, a small musical revolution the same year brought about the creation of the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, formed by John Eliot Gardiner to break down the barrier to the Romantic era.

As in politics, this was a movement to clear away the old orthodoxy. Gardiner’s orchestra quickly went on to make one of the first complete recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies on period instruments and, among a swathe of early romantic composers, performed some unforgettable Berlioz, not least his epic opera Les Troyens.

That flashback formed the backbone of the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique’s 25th anniversary concert. The programme opened with Beethoven’s Overture Leonore No.2, least convincing of the four that the composer wrote to precede his opera Fidelio, though it may not have seemed like that from Gardiner’s thrusting performance with its raucous horns and loud-as-a-gunshot whacks on the drums.

Then they were joined for a pair of Berlioz items by Anna Caterina Antonacci (Cassandre in Gardiner’s Les Troyens). La Captive, a languid setting of Victor Hugo, is difficult to bring off in concert and Antonacci was out of tune at the start and vague about the words. La Mort de Cléopâtre suited her better and she put it across with the concentrated force of an opera in miniature. The orchestra was sometimes too loud for her, but Gardiner has the ability to bring Berlioz’s idiosyncratic music to life from within, putting his finger on the inflection point of each phrase.

The best, though, was left to last. Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 has always responded to Gardiner’s uninhibited drive, but after two fully involving movements this performance suddenly went into overdrive. In the scherzo cellos and basses shot out of the blocks like Usain Bolt. Wind and brass, leaping to their feet, launched the finale with hair-raising intensity as Gardiner and team charged towards the finishing-line. Twenty-five years on, Beethoven on period instruments should not still be as exciting as this.

Read on the  Financial Times website.