12 ensemble
The 12 Ensemble by Raphaël Neal, London March 2022

12 Ensemble at the Sheldonian, reviewed

This evening I had the joy of attending The 12 Ensemble’s performance of Richter Recomposed: Vivaldi – The Four Seasons at the Sheldonian Theatre. A Music at Oxford event in collaboration with Music at Worcester, this was an opportunity to witness some of my favourite pieces performed live, a stone’s throw from college.

Booked over the vac, my first mistake was incorrectly informing my friend that I had booked to sit on Balcony E rather than Balcony A. Fortunately both seats are available for the student friendly price of £7.50, and at an event which allowed for little interaction, our separation was no matter.

Vivaldi’s original Four Seasons are likely one of, if not the most recognised work of classical music. Richter’s recomposition will also sound familiar to fans of Bridgerton, which used Spring I as the score for the Hasting’s Ball in the rain. Soloist Eloisa-Fleur Thom and The 12 Ensemble brought these pieces to life with a flourish, allowing the music to speak for itself and be heard in the way the composers intended.

There is nothing like watching classical music performed live in a venue where the crescendos of the group can really fill the space. With every squeak, every scratch, every mistake laid bare, the technical ability of Thom and the Orchestra did not disappoint. Seeing the piece performed also highlighted each individual part; viewing the harp allowed me to more easily pick out its sound, often a low but integral chord underlying the melody of the higher strings.

A surprising but not unwelcome addition to the stage was the presence of a harpsichord, played by Kat Tinker, a distinct sound which added variety to the primarily bowed strings. The contrast of all three types of stringed instrument – bowed, plucked and struck – added to the dimensions of Richter’s work, giving range to the minimalist piece. 

Performing without a conductor, Thom’s expressive performance was all the more delightful to watch, moving as one with her violin, and cuing the rest of the ensemble. With only 21 instruments on the stage, the layers which bring out the characteristic depth of Richter’s works were clear and at their most moving. Staccato soprano lines contrasted a legato counter melody on the lower strings throughout the Spring movements, whereas the whole group played as one for the more aggressively powerful movements of late Summer and Winter.

A particular treat at the end of the recital was a performance of Richter’s On the Nature of Daylight, a personal all-time favourite. Played on only 5 instruments, this minimalist masterpiece was beautifully rendered by the group, powerfully capturing the room and eliciting an enthusiastic ovation at its conclusion.

A short recital – only an hour in total – I can only recommend performances at the Sheldonian to fellow students, especially if they feature any of the incredible performers tonight. Shows from both Thom and The 12 Ensemble are certainly on my watchlist from now on.