Portrait of War: Manchester Camerata in Varied Program

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Ravel, Aaron Parker, Mozart and Richard Strauss: Manchester Camerata/Gábor Takács-Nagy (conductor), Kathryn Stott (piano) – Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, 10.3.2012 (MC)

Portrait of War

RavelLe Tombeau de Couperin
Aaron ParkerLook me in the eyes
Mozart – Piano Concerto No. 21, K. 467 ‘Elvira Madigan
Richard StraussMetamorphosen


Photograph © Manchester Camerata

Hungarian conductor Gábor Takács-Nagy continues to display his considerable talents in this his inaugural season as music director of the Manchester Camerata. Their last concert at the Bridgwater Hall a few weeks ago was one of the most gratifying concerts that I had attended for some time in this country. Entitled ‘Portrait of War’ the Camerata’s programme given at the Royal Northern College of Music concert hall worked a treat cleverly demonstrating how two major composers reacted with their music to the horrors of war.

Writing Le tombeau de Couperin, an optimistically upbeat score with a strong bucolic character, was Ravel’s way of commemorating the memory of his friends who had died fighting during the horrific carnage of the First World War. Originally a piano suite, a homage to the baroque music of Parisian François Couperin, Ravel’s orchestration of four of the six movements of Le tombeau de Couperin is one of his finest achievements. Expertly led by Adi Brett the riveting playing of this neo-baroque masterpiece from the Camerata was as ravishingly seductive and alive as I could imagine so splendidly sympathetic and overflowing with vividly bright colours.

A real surprise and a pleasant one at that was the inclusion in the programme at short notice of the chamber score Look me in the eyes lasting around five minutes by Aaron Parker a composer in his early twenties. Although we were given very little information about the score it seems that the composer was inspired by a distant memory of seeing the gaze of an elderly woman on a black and white photograph in the Manchester Art Gallery. In the dimly lit hall, light rumbling percussion could be heard throughout underpinning the attractive solo contributions with a distinct Gallic feel from the flute, clarinet, violin, viola and cello. Fitting nicely into the programme Parker’s highly accessible miniature score was attractive and a really fine effort.

Mozart’s evergreen Piano Concerto No.21 in C major has become widely known by the nickname ‘Elvira Madigan’ as the Andante was featured in the 1967 Swedish film of that name. Seemingly a fixture in North of England concert programmes this season local girl Kathryn Stott was tonight’s soloist in the Mozart concerto. Earlier this winter I had experienced a rather lacklustre and untidy affair at the Guild Hall, Preston with an out-of-sorts Stott playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major with Vasily Petrenko conducting the Liverpool Phil. I was hoping for an improved performance and as Stott began to relax she provided it, playing with sparkle, poise and communicating every note vibrantly. Beautifully shaped by Stott the lovely Andante felt charmingly tender with Takács-Nagy ensuring sympathetic support from the Camerata. As in the Ravel score it is impossible not to single out the outstanding contribution from oboist Rachael Clegg for special praise.

Richard Strauss’s late masterpiece Metamorphosen subtitled ‘In memoriam!’ is a study for twenty-three solo strings and is the composer’s deeply personal emotional statement in response to the devastation caused to German town and cities and their inhabitants in the Second World War. It seems that Strauss was thinking particularly about the destruction of the Munich, Dresden and Vienna opera houses that were so dear to him. The Camerata’s full-bodied sound that combines tonal blend with a unified excellence was heard at its finest throughout the complex counterpoint of the mournful Metamorphosen. In a sea of sound the luxuriant strings brought out the rapt beauty of Strauss’s writing yet emphasised its underlying sadness and darkness throughout its extended span. I liked the way that Takács-Nagy resisted any temptation to take Strauss’s moving score too slowly.

This was another highly satisfying and inspiring concert from the Manchester Camerata who go from strength to strength. Under the stewardship of Gábor Takács-Nagy the Camerata are certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Michael Cookson