Conductors Nicholas Collon and Robin Ticciati founded the adventurous young British chamber orchestra Aurora in 2005. Since then, they have been receiving good reviews not only for their performance style but for their diverse programming, playing everything from Baroque to modern music. Road Trip (oddly misspelled as one word on the cover and the disc) appears to be the orchestra's debut album.
The ensemble plays beautifully, a precision instrument yet full of spunk and spark. They remind me a lot of San Francisco's New Century Chamber Orchestra and New York City's The Knights. The question I have, though, is how many classical listeners buy record albums because of favorite orchestras rather than favorite soloists or favorite composers. I dunno; well, not my business.
A look at the disc's program shows just how diverse Aurora's material is with works by American composers John Adams, Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, Paul Simon, and several traditional numbers arranged by Nico Muhly. The program is both daring and conventional at the same time.
Whatever, first up (after a brief introduction) is Chamber Symphony by John Adams (b. 1947). Adams himself writes that Arnold Schoenberg's Chamber Symphony was his inspiration for this 1992 composition, as were some animated cartoons. So, it's understandable the work involves a good degree of high spirits and kinetic energy. The Aurora Orchestra capture the fun of the three-movement piece with apparent glee, right up until the closing mixture of clashing gaiety.
And there is Appalachian Spring by Aaron Copland (1900-1990), the familiar piece performed in its original version for thirteen instruments. Because Copland's work is probably the most familiar thing on the program, it has the most competition on disc, including the composer's own 1973 recording for chamber orchestra (which is a bit longer and more complete than the suite we get here). Copland marks the first movement "Very slowly," and that's exactly how the Aurora Orchestra plays it, very slowly indeed. It sets the tone and creates the atmosphere for the remainder of the work. Although taking things a tad more leisurely than other recorded performances I've heard, the Aurora players make the composition as colorful and engaging as any you'll find, and they do up the famous variations on a Shaker hymn in a most-gentle and poignant fashion.
Raphael Mouterde engineered and produced the album, recorded at Kings Place, London in January and April 2014. The sound is about as ideal as one could want, with plenty of transparency in the midrange and bloom and air around the instruments. In other words, it sounds real, dimensional, each player in the ensemble clearly delineated yet blending into the whole. With its smooth, detailed response, the sound is among the best I've heard from a new recording in quite some time.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here: