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The week in classical: London Unwrapped: Aurora Orchestra; Oxford Lieder festival – review

Fiona Maddocks
·2-min read

Mendelssohn called London a “smoky nest” but he was fond of the city, becoming a regular visitor, and a favourite of Queen Victoria. More interesting than a blue plaque, look for the squat sundial in Camberwell’s Ruskin Park honouring his popular Spring Song – written nearby – or the tree stump on a Barbican walkway, which tenuously marks his memory. (Both may have been removed as health hazards. Updates welcome.) One of Mendelssohn’s greatest calling cards – written when he was 16 – was his Octet, a natural and joyous choice for the opening concert of London Unwrapped: Sounds of a Migrant City, the new year-long series at Kings Place.

Eight string players of Aurora Orchestra gave a sprightly performance, speeds fleet, each player’s part fitting the whole like tesserae in a jewelled mosaic. Aurora are used to shapeshifting: they also played Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro (1905) for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet, and tiny but arresting pieces by Thea Musgrave and Anna Meredith. Elena Urioste was the poetic violin soloist in Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending in a chamber arrangement. However restricted London Unwrapped is because of Covid, you can be sure every aspect of the city’s multilayered, multicultural musical history will be embraced in the months ahead.

All song lovers should buy a pass for the Oxford Lieder festival, still available to watch. Shuffling the pack coolly to cope with 11th-hour illness and travel bans, OLF presented a streamlined weekend of winter-into-spring concerts. I caught the tenor Joshua Ellicott and pianist Anna Tilbury, Nardus Williams and pianist (and festival director) Sholto Kynoch, Ailish Tynan and pianist Iain Burnside, with young baritone James Atkinson and clarinettist Julian Bliss: varied, rewarding, engaging. Repertoire spanned Shostakovich to Purcell, Britten, Stanford and more. No one welcomes spring, in all its hope and torment, better than Schubert. As ever in this festival, he was the touchstone.

  • The Oxford Lieder festival is available to stream on demand until 21 March. Click here for tickets