Prom 72: Aurora Orchestra/Collon review – Berlioz as vivid to the eye as the ear

Royal Albert Hall, London
Berlioz’s music - and the man himself - is brought to colourful life in a rip-roaring performance of his Symphonie Fantastique

Berlioz should have been a character in an opera. But, not one of his own. It would need to be by someone capable of nailing his arch-romantic bearing with the balance of seriousness, levity and affection. Much like the Aurora Orchestra’s Prom achieved at the Royal Albert Hall.

Telling an almost autobiographical story of opium-addled infatuation, the Symphonie Fantastique is an obvious candidate for the ‘orchestral theatre’ approach that Aurora has developed over the past few Proms seasons. This time they wove a deft character sketch of the French composer, into a rip-roaring performance of his work.

Around a third of the 90-minute concert was an introduction to the symphony and its creator. Perhaps inevitably, the parts that involved conductor Nicholas Collon leading his players through musical examples felt a bit high-fibre, especially given the lightness of touch with which actor Mathew Baynton embodied the wide-eyed, smitten composer. This was Berlioz in his own words, his memoirs providing ample material for Jane Mitchell’s script.

Playing from memory ... the Aurora Orchestra, conducted by Nicholas Collon.
Playing from memory ... the Aurora Orchestra, conducted by Nicholas Collon. Photograph: Mark Allan/BBC

Come the symphony itself, all this made the performance even more colourful and sharply focused. Baynton introduced each movement as Berlioz and, as usual for Aurora’s Proms, all the musicians played from memory, mostly standing up and free to move.

There were many memorable visual moments: the four glittering harps in the ballroom movement, which ended in a whirl of lights reflected from half a dozen glitterballs; then the musicians were fireflies beneath a glowing moon, lights illuminating from their wrists; and the Witches’ Sabbath had them in sinister paper masks, the stage lit blood red. Yet nothing upstaged the music, with Collon driving the tempos and encouraging characterful playing from wind and brass. The performance was as vivid to the ear as it was to the eye.

The Proms continue until Saturday.

Contributor

Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Aurora Orch/Collon review – Ayres and Beethoven pairing is vivid and lithe
Richard Ayres’s complex Beethoven tribute had real emotional power, while the latter’s Seventh symphony – performed from memory – was a joyous celebration of energy

Andrew Clements

11, Sep, 2020 @11:56 AM

Article image
Aurora Orchestra; Ten Pieces Prom; Malcolm Sargent’s 500th Prom review – a pacy and polished musical education
The Aurora took Beethoven for a walk and talk; actor Rory Kinnear played Proms founder Henry Wood; and pianist Beatrice Rana shone with Schumann

Erica Jeal

25, Jul, 2017 @12:27 PM

Article image
Aurora Orchestra/Collon review – memorable for all the right reasons
Playing an Anna Meredith premiere and Beethoven’s 40-minute Pastoral from memory brought a sense of spontaneity – the gamble certainly paid off

George Hall

03, Aug, 2015 @1:24 PM

Article image
Prom 41: Aurora O/Collon review – an original and compelling score
Benedict Mason's Meld was performed convincingly, with choir and orchestra both making the most of the Albert Hall's acoustics, writes Andrew Clements

Andrew Clements

18, Aug, 2014 @5:40 PM

Article image
Aurora O/Collon/BBCSO/Gardner review – pulling out the party tricks
The Aurora Orchestra played Mozart’s Jupiter with spirit – and from memory; and Edward Gardner confidently conducted a satirical new piece by Lera Auerbach

George Hall

02, Aug, 2016 @1:40 PM

Prom 25: Aurora Orchestra/Collon – review

Philip Glass's Tenth Symphony, getting its first UK airing, covered familiar if memorably melodic ground, writes George Hall

George Hall

01, Aug, 2013 @12:38 PM

Article image
Aurora Orchestra review – squeaks, lederhosen and raspberries In the Alps
A virtuoso turn from Mary Bevan as a girl taught to sing by beasts animated Richard Ayres’ kitsch mountain melodrama, followed by the orchestra’s latest exhilarating symphony from memory

Flora Willson

04, Jun, 2017 @11:24 AM

Article image
Aurora Orchestra/Collon/Booth review – Julian Anderson curates an illuminating and unexpected programme
Claire Booth sang Stravinsky, Ravel, Birtwistle, Julian Anderson – and a new piece by Augusta Read Thomas based on Emily Dickinson’s bird poems

Andrew Clements

09, Jul, 2015 @2:34 PM

Article image
Aurora Orchestra/Collon/Connolly review – sweet but never saccharine
Good Morning, Midnight’s meditation on night-time uses words by poets including Emily Dickinson to create something greater than the sum of its parts

Erica Jeal

08, Jun, 2015 @2:13 PM

Article image
Aurora Orchestra / Dean review – irrepressible energy to beat winter blues
Despite some last-minute substitutions, this Britten concert – and premiere of Josephine Stephenson’s stetting of Rimbaud’s Une Saison en Enfer – was performed at full strength

Andrew Clements

05, Dec, 2019 @12:49 PM