Norwegian Chamber Orchestra/Andsnes review – quicksilver musical rapport

Cadogan Hall, London
This captivating ensemble offered a life-enhancing account of Prokofiev and danced their way through Grieg in what felt like a get-together of old friends

I defy, I absolutely defy, anyone not to feel unalloyed pleasure when the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra are playing at their best. Traditionalists get annoyed by “all that emoting”, as James Galway once called the visible mutual encouragement that accompanies the playing of ensembles like this. For most of us, though, troubles slip away and the quicksilver musical rapport is captivating, especially when the NCO produces life-enhancing accounts of Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony, with which this London visit started, or of Grieg’s Holberg Suite, which ended it.

Conventional accounts of the Prokofiev tend to emphasise clockwork precision and surface sheen. But playing standing up, and entirely from memory, the Norwegians found something different and new. It became an improvisatory conversation piece, with the inspirational Terje Tønnesen and Daniel Bard leading the first and second violins in a high-spirited conversation. Yes, there was the occasional error of ensemble, but that really was not the point. It was like being at a jovial get-together of old friends who happened to have brought their instruments along. That impression became reality in the orchestra’s Grieg party piece, when the players started to dance – as much as a double bass or a cello allows – as they played the final Rigaudon.

Norwegian Chamber Orchestra
Musical rapport … the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra Photograph: PR

When they choose, though, the Norwegians can do serious too. Seated and playing from the score this time, and with Leif Ove Andsnes directing from the keyboard, two substantial Mozart piano concertos were the centrepiece of the concert. Once again, interplay and colour were to the fore. Andsnes’s account of the agitated D minor concerto K466 was darkly authoritative, but it lacked the insight and flair that he brought to a more convincing account of the E flat concerto K482 after the interval.


Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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