'Will you dance, dear?' one bishop said to another is what Sir Roger Norrington thought might have happened at the start of the third movement of Haydn's La Passione, the Minuet. Probably untrue but memorable - for La Passione was one of six symphonies Haydn wrote not for court performances but for church, and this one almost certainly for Good Friday. It proved a contemplative but firm beginning for the evening's concert.
This was the Conductor's third visit in five years and each time he is able to stamp his particular authority on the Orchestra. He has made his reputation by having baroque and early classical music played the way careful research suggests it would have sounded at the time of composition. Indeed at the fascinating pre-concert talk in questions from Associate Leader Bill Chandler, Sir Roger went on to say his way of doing things applied to most music.
For La Passione Sir Roger had the small orchestra in a horseshoe around him whilst he was perched on a double bass player's high chair; first violins facing second violins. For Mozart's Piano Concerto No 20 in D minor, the same horseshoe but with the piano in the midst with its lid removed, the pianist's back to us and the conductor at the far end of the piano facing the pianist. The wind players were standing behind the violins. The celebrated German Lars Vogt was the pianist for what was the first of only two Mozart piano concertos in a minor key. It was an extraordinarily sensitive and satisfying performance.
As we were about to start the second half, the principals of the Royal Philharmonic Society and Association of British Orchestras came on stage to present this year's Salomon Prize to the somewhat surprised former principal John Cushing who graciously accepted the award with its £1,000 cheque. The Salomon Prize is awarded each year to a musician who has shown commitment and dedication above and beyond the expected service asked by their orchestra over a single concert season. John Cushing, a member of the Orchestra since 1978 until his recent retirement, is the fourth recipient of the Prize.
It was easy after that excitement to sit back and imagine oneself in the countryside depicted in Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony and performed Sir Roger Norrington's way. The musical metronome was a new gadget in Beethoven's time he had reminded us earlier; Beethoven took it seriously and his scores set out the pace - and this was the crowning glory of the evening's concert. A well satisfied audience.
Performance: Friday 27th February 2015 at 7.30pm.