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© Laura Bodo

23 March 2013 - Aurora Orchestra / Insomnia
Two excellent reviews for Thomas's performance of James Macmillan's A Deep but Dazzling Darkness at LSO St Luke's.

London Evening Standard *****
The Times ****

"The invocation of sleep might be thought unwise with regard to audiences at least — critics never nod off at concerts of course. But Aurora’s latest themed programme, Insomnia, was created with the idea of “charting a course through the darkness of a troubled night”. And it did so with a wonderfully imaginative concept that included Vivaldi’s G minor Flute Concerto (La Notte) — adroitly dispatched by Jane Mitchell — and James MacMillan’s A Deep but Dazzling Darkness, which explores a spiritual awareness of light and dark in often powerful sonic terms.

The outstanding tenor soloist was Allan Clayton, in real life an insomniac, so perfectly cast in the role. Clayton’s delivery in Ivor Gurney’s Sleep hinted at the composer’s troubled mental state — Gurney eventually succumbed to insanity — and he was equally responsive to the range of texts (Shelley, Tennyson, Owen and others) in Britten’s underrated Nocturne. Aurora members emerged from the shadows to play their various obbligato parts and vanished again. Clayton too did a convincing impression of a sleepwalker in the Gurney. Indeed, the whole show was skilfully choreographed, with evocative lighting by William Reynolds.

Aurora’s multi-talented arranger-in-chief, Iain Farrington, who had scored the Gurney exquisitely for small ensemble, provided a no less delectable arrangement of the Beatles song Blackbird, while Couperin’s harpsichord piece Les Baricades Mistérieuses was elegantly reinvented in the 1994 scoring of Thomas Ades.

Nicholas Collon drew immaculate performances from his players and yet the music was only one element of this ingeniously conceived cross-arts programme. Refreshing the repertoire and broadening appeal are imperative these days. Nobody does it better than Aurora."
London Evening Standard, Barry Millington *****

"My eyelids never droop in an Aurora Orchestra concert. Too much going on. But they called this one “Insomnia” anyway. It was a title that reflected the nocturnal music — everything from Vivaldi’s phantasmagoric La Notte flute concerto and James MacMillan’s nightmarish and sardonic violin mini-concerto A Deep But Dazzling Darkness to the incessant ticking of Ligeti’s Poème symphonique for 100 metronomes (mercifully left to run down while we all went for a drink) and even Paul McCartney’s Blackbird (singing in the dead of night, of course).

But it also reflected the imaginative presentation, artfully enhanced by the lighting designer William Reynolds: often in near-darkness, with the tenor Allan Clayton restlessly drifting round the hall like a bearded Lady Macbeth during Ivor Gurney’s poignant song Sleep, and the wind players creeping into the light as required during Britten’s Nocturne — a touch of visual drama that emphasised Britten’s masterstroke of not using them all together until the final song’s cataclysmic Mahlerian climax.

There was something rather after-hours, too, about the sepulchral timbres that predominated: the sinister, rocking strings in the Nocturne (superbly balanced by the conductor, Nicholas Collon); Iain Farrington’s ethereally wispy arrangements of Gurney and McCartney, and Thomas Adès’s dark- hued version of Couperin’s enigmatic keyboard work Les Barricades Mistérieuses. Clayton doesn’t yet have Peter Pears’s ability to spin endless lines, but he sang with insight and intelligence; the violinist Thomas Gould and the flautist Jane Mitchell were compelling in their respective concertos."
The Times, Richard Morrison ****


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