Expressive and Vital Playing from Guzzo and Manchester Camerata

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mendelssohn, Sibelius, Schubert arr. Mahler: Manchester Camerata / Giovanni Guzzo (director/leader), Westmorland Hall, Kendal, Cumbria, 05.11.2011 (MC)

Mendelssohn: String Symphony No. 10 in B minor (1823)
Sibelius: Rakastava (The Lover), Op.14 (1911)
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto in D minor (1822)
Schubert (arr. Mahler): String Quartet in D minor ‘Death and the Maiden’ (1824)

An amazing child prodigy Mendelssohn by the age of twelve had already written a set of 12 String Symphonies intended for Sunday musicales at the Mendelssohn Berlin home. In the assured hands of the Camerata director/leader Giovanni Guzzo it was the single movement String Symphony No. 10 in B minor that provided such an exhilarating opening to the concert held on Bonfire Night in Kendal. One or two intonation problems on the violas were soon resolved.

The thirteen year old Mendelssohn composed the Concerto for violin and strings in D minor for his friend Eduard Rietz. Overshadowed by his masterwork the Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 the D minor score was ignored for around a century until Yehudi Menuhin revived it in 1952. To my ears the concerto evoked a sound world that ranged from the North Italian violin school of Tartini to the Austro-German tradition of Mozart. With firebrand spirit and energetic zeal soloist Giovanni Guzzo made the best possible case for this youthful score. Lyrical flowing lines of the soloist in the Allegro molto were set against the fascinating, almost furtive quality of the string accompaniment. An intense yearning quality in the Andante showed the remarkable emotional facility of the twelve year old Mendelssohn. Brisk and vivacious – the highly strung final movement Allegro just galloped along with a buoyancy that delighted the audience. To show his gratitude soloist Guzzo gave an encore of significant refinement playing a movement from a J.S. Bach sonata for unaccompanied violin.

In between the two Mendelssohn works the Camerata played Sibelius’s three movement Rakastava (The Lover). Short, but certainly agreeable and entertaining, Rakastava contained some lovely lyricism and restless rustic folk rhythms. The shimmering strings in the attractive final movement conveyed a wistful quality and the icy chill of the Finnish winter was never far way.

Mahler faced considerable criticism for interfering with works of the great masters, such as making a string orchestra arrangement of Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 11 and revising Schumann’s symphonies. Known as ‘Death and the Maiden’ Schubert’s String Quartet in D minor is one of the best loved works in the chamber repertoire. Mahler’s arrangement of the score for string orchestra was widely thought to have compromised the intimacy and individuality of Schubert’s score. In effect, Mahler had changed little, mainly adding double basses to reinforce the cello part. What Mahler’s arrangement had done was to allow the music to travel from the fashionable drawing rooms to the concert hall. Under the enthusiastic direction of Giovanni Guzzo the Camerata performed ‘Death and the Maiden’with vitality and utmost conviction, and were especially effective in the episodes of fiery agitation that pervade the opening movement Allegro. The players were just as comfortable with the attractive melodies and beautiful harmonies found in the Andante con moto as the contrasting vigour and tragic overtones of the Scherzo. I loved the way the Camerata provided a real intensity of expression with the action packed turbulence of the closing movement Presto.

The Manchester Camerata is an excellent ensemble giving careful attention to detail, phrasing and dynamics. As always, their performances are accomplished, playing with expression and vitality underpinned by an impressive unison. As I expected the generous Kendal audience gave the Camerata warm applause.

Michael Cookson