Academy of Ancient Music play Beethoven 6 at Barbican


Full upfront (brutal) disclosure. This wasn’t the greatest concert. There were bits and bobs that grated a bit. Mostly, I wanted a bit more power. A bit more bejazzle when the score directed so. Sometimes it felt like the AAM looked a bit lost and remote on the vast Barbican stage. Some of the detail was lost in the acoustic too. That made me wonder whether the ensemble might have benefitted from an extra desk of string players all round, especially given the audience appeared to be near capacity.

AAM are a nimble bunch though. I detected it in the way the band adjusted to the acoustic mid-way through the opening Mendelssohn Hebrides Overture. Here, and in the slow movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, there was warmth, grace and poise – a sense they were in they slotted into their groove.

This adaptability in the moment illustrates a shift in AAM’s playing. Modern. Responsive. Conductor Laurence Cummings plays a part in this. He adopts a preference for avoiding moments where there might be a risk of wallowing. The result is an infectious kind of promptness (I ended up leaping for the exit and missing the encore). There were times in the Violin Concerto when I missed the opportunity for the gentlest of pauses before we raced off in pursuit of another musical idea. And I’m the Beethoven symphony too, the speed sometimes resulted in detail being lost in the violas and cellos. What this suggests is that I’ve become all too accustomed to a gritty Beethoven sound, so much that I want to linger just a little bit.

The Academy of Ancient Music perform at the BBC Proms on Wednesday 23 August with a performance of Handel’s Samson. Their new season gets underway on Wednesday 18 October at Barbican.