After a slow start, the classical music year is back to top speed. Daniel Barenboim has arrived with the Berlin Staatskapelle; the New York Phil, armed with their secret weapon, is hot on their tales. Not the best moment, perhaps, for a local period instrument orchestra - whose name only the most devoted of its devotees bother to pronounce in full - to begin yet another Beethoven symphony cycle. But on the strength of the opening concert under Vladimir Jurowski, I can safely say that far from being “just another” Beethoven cycle, this series will prove to be unmissable.

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment often gives the impression of not really needing their conductor. Most of their repertoire, in fact, predates the existence of virtuoso professional conductors. But Jurowski’s (therefore highly inauthentic) style of micro-conducting – shaping every phrase, jumping on every lead – evidently suits them very nicely indeed. Beginning with the 4th symphony, stretching the slow introduction to near-breaking point, they pounced on the Allegro vivace with the kind of brazen diversity of tone that non-period bands can only dream of. From the long melodies of the second movement, perfectly shaped by the strings despite the absence of vibrato, to the fleet cross rhythms and stabbing motions of the third – which had Jurowksi looking like something out of The Matrix, dodging maelstroms of bullets from all directions – the audience had trouble holding on to their seats.

The seventh symphony, which followed, was no different. A triumphant character is of course built in to this piece, with its mishmash of military and peasant styles. But even here the orchestra found shapes and sounds which, together with the immaculate ensemble and a sense of dynamism not far short of inflammatory, restored to this well-loved work the raw effervescence which protracted bouts of Karajanitis led
many to assume had died long ago. But no: it is very much alive, and kicking.

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