The Orchestra of St John’s give a resounding performance Monn’s Baroque cello concerto and other pieces as part of a series of proms, in the perfect space offered by the Ashmolean.
Set in the atrium of the museum, the experience of the music was very much enhanced by the Greek and Roman marble statuary lining the walls. Strangely, it does seem to lend the music extra weight, to be surrounded by artworks thousands of years old, which nevertheless reflect the same beauty which humanity is capable of, as does the music one is listening to. I was also surprised by the excellent acoustics of the room. I was worried that non-purpose-built auditorium would mute or echo the sounds, but everything carried loud, clear and crisp right to the back of the hall. This was all the more important as anyone more than three or four rows back would struggle to see the players, who were all on a level with the audience.
The music was, needless to say excellent. OSJ are steeped in quality. Not a single note was missed and all the players and singers were fully present in what they were doing. Especially striking were the two sopranos, Hannah Davey and Hannah Fraser Mackenzie, both of whom had the most wonderful rich, full and smooth voices. It was like listening to the finest of Merlots.
Our first half consisted of Purcell’s Chaconne and Monn’s Concerto in G minor. Personally, I found Chaconne a strange choice to begin an evening of springtime music. Slightly mournful, almost foreboding at times, while clearly a deep and resonant piece it seemed somewhat in contrast to the mood I was expecting. Concerto in G minor picked things up with flowing, uplifting sounds that reminded me of a bright and fine summer’s evening. John Heley, cello, was magnificent.
Following an interval, the second half kicked off with a short talk by Dr John Whiteley about one of the pieces found in the Ashmolean: the Immaculate Conception by Jose Antolinez. Alongside the programme we were given a postcard of the painting, which was chosen due to its relevance to the pieces performed. Though the snippets I caught were interesting, I’m afraid I struggled to hear Dr Whiteley clearly in the large Atrium; the acoustics that so perfectly conveyed the music seeming to struggle with spoken voice. A pity, but really it is all about the music.
The second half was a rendition of Handel’s Dixit Domius, delivered by choir and chamber choir. Again, the music evoked the warmth of a summer’s day – almost bouncy at times. The choir’s voice fully filled the room, pulling off complex multipart harmonies with natural ease. The exultant piece finished with a powerful group crescendo to send the audience back out into the warmest evening of the year.
If this sounds like your thing you will be glad to know that the next OSJ event in the Ashmolean Proms series is on 9 October.