Norrington mixes it up

I have to recommend a wonderful concert we went to last night in the Usher Hall in Edinburgh, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3.  It’s on the iPlayer and well worth a listen.

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra was conducted by the inspiring if slightly eccentric Sir Roger Norrington and his whole approach left me grinning from ear to ear.  We started with Haydn’s Passione symphony, which he believes was written possibly for use in church. It was a small band with four double basses arranged two on either side, which I have not seen before and Sir Roger in the middle conducting without a baton. I honestly believe the RSNO could have played the whole symphony without a rehearsal, so expressive were Sir Roger’s gestures and so clearly communicating what he wanted, with encouragements and coaxings galore. They responded magnificently.

Next came Mozart’s d minor piano concerto in another unique arrangement, piano in the middle, lid removed, with Lars Vogt facing the orchestra and Sir Roger at the back of the piano facing him and the audience. The woodwind were arranged flute and oboes on the left and bassoons on the right, and the strings turned slightly so they could see the conductor. Not quite sure how the cellos, with their back to Sir Roger, managed.  It was wonderful to see Sir Roger’s expression now, which along with his hands were again drawing out wonderful playing. The piano was a little distant without the added projection from the lid, but all in all it was a fantastic experiment which almost paid off, apart from some issues with wind ensemble, which was hardly surprising given they were separated on opposite sides of the platform and also give the speed of the performance which must be among the fastest on record.

After the interval a more traditional arrangement, with basses along the back Vienna Philharmonic style, delivered another engaging performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony.

The whole concert left me enthused about the possibilities of new ways of thinking around arranging musicians in different layouts, and the expressive and musical possibilities of gesture, expression and sheer enthusiasm from a man who will be 81 years old in two weeks time.