For the final concert of their 71st season, Ilkley Concert Club members gave a warm welcome to the return of the Aurora Ensemble. Aurora are normally a wind quintet of flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon but on this occasion they were joined by friends who allowed them to play as an octet of two each of oboes, clarinets, horns and bassoons. Music for this group of players was immensely popular in late 18th and early 19th century Vienna and known as Harmoniemusik.
An arrangement of Mozart’s Don Giovanni overture started us off, appropriately dark and foreboding in the slow introduction with its chords representing the don’s nemesis, the Commendatore, but full of light agile playing in the subsequent allegro. Franz Krommer is best known for his Harmonie pieces and his Octet in F major tested the virtuosity of the players to the limit. It is a lively piece, full of invention, often featuring skirling oboes competing with the more mellifluous clarinets against accompanying figures in the lower instruments: concluding with a charming polonaise containing a delightful duo for the two bassoons.
The superiority of Mozart as a composer for this group of instruments was amply displayed in his early wind serenade K375, here given a splendidly rich performance. You felt that each instrument was given its own voice and allowed to shine through the ensemble at some point, although the oboes, which were a second thought for the composer, clearly carry the melody less than the clarinets.
Beethoven’s Rondino in E flat opened the second half: here the horns played a prominent part and rounded off this short piece with two little duo episodes, the second a muted echo of the first, as if the group were receding into the distance.
Finally the Aurora’s flautist was allowed out of the dressing room to make up a nonet for a performance of Gounod’s delightful Petite Symphonie, full of glorious tunes and almost Mendelssohnian Romanticism – a real treat for the ears and a wonderful way to end the season!