Orchestra of St Paul’s celebrated its tenth anniversary at home, in “The Actors' Church”. The magnificent acoustic was exploited when, from the organ loft, trumpeters played Stravinsky’s brief and aggressive Fanfare, a prelude to Biber’s delightfully eccentric three-centuries old Battalia, grabbing listeners’ attention with strange effects such as the placing of paper behind the strings of a double bass to imitate the snarl of a snare drum and fierce pizzicatos representing gunfire. The performance was spirited – notably swift with much attention paid to particular sounds.
Momentum also featured in the excellent account of the Haydn. The resonance of the venue and the full scoring represented a challenge for the small string section but balance was adequate although heaviness in the big chords was probably due to using the horns at the lower octave – horns in B-flat alto achieve superior clarity. None of this thwarted the superb soloists whose individual timbres sparkled while also being incorporated into the symphonic whole. The Andante was all the more elegant for not being allowed to linger.
The ‘Linz’ Symphony was also notable for forward impulse, although the quick introductory Adagio was rather inconsequential – the succeeding Allegro spiritoso deserves a more majestic preface, in which the exposition was repeated both repeats were taken in the second and fourth movements; an unsatisfactory shape. Nevertheless, structure was otherwise keenly attended to and Ben Palmer took a very detailed approach to phrasing, notably so when using small crescendos to lead up to major chords, a personal view but there is musicality in such an approach and the same may be said of his tendency to fade sequences of repeated notes – also characteristic of Roger Norrington. Palmer’s ideas are unusual but certainly valid; it is interesting to hear new ideas brought to familiar works. The Minuet was given a swinging pulse, smoother, softer and less militaristic than usual, and we ended with the fieriest of Finales immaculately played. OSP is a very skilled orchestra.