Yesterday the north London arts venue Kings Place was a joyous place, for two reasons. Its bid for government help from the Cultural Recovery Fund was approved—which gives it a fighting chance of surviving into the post-pandemic era—and the wonderful Aurora Orchestra gave its first concert there in eight months. This was a necessarily slimmed-down affair. Only five of the orchestra’s principal string players were on stage, plus starry guest pianist Imogen Cooper. But in musical terms it was both nourishing and radiantly optimistic.
The only slight disappointment came at the beginning, with the performance of Mozart’s grandly ceremonial Piano Concerto No 25, given in exactly the kind of small strings-only arrangement Mozart often made himself. Achieving a proper balance between a small-toned 18th-century piano and five string players in a salon is one thing; achieving it in the resonant acoustic of Kings Hall One with a great black beast of a Steinway grand piano on stage is quite another. Imogen Cooper’s touch was certainly expressive but also overly heavy, and much of the detail in the string parts was lost.
Fortunately Cooper’s sound in Schubert’s much-loved Trout Quintet was much more varied. She became the great artist we always knew she was, summoning a mysterious veiled murmur in the dusky slow movement, and varying the endless ribbons of tinkly figuration in the opening movement so that they never weighed heavy on the ear. She was matched in every way by the five string players, especially leader Alexandra Wood, who tossed off the high decorations in the final movement with insouciant grace.
Sandwiched between these two masterworks was a new piece which certainly held its own in their august company, despite being only 10 minutes long. Monody for the World of the Two Skylarks is an awkward title, but fortunately the piece itself, composed specially for the five principal string players of Aurora by young Scottish composer Electra Perivolaris was beautifully clear. It caught the complicated feelings of delight and fascination she felt on seeing two skylarks wheeling in the Scottish Highlands. The ecstatic cries of the two violins suggested the two birds were actually possessed by a single spirit, and the thrilling shudders and opalescent harmonies in the lower strings beautifully caught that same unseen spirit coursing through the mountains and streams and scudding clouds. It was a beautiful musical image of Wordsworthian pantheism, created by a razor-sharp musical imagination.
Available to stream via www.kingsplace.co.uk