Outstanding Portrayals of Love by the Manchester Camerata

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Webern, Brahms, Dvořák and Tchaikovsky: Anna Stephany (mezzo-soprano), Manchester Camerata, Gábor Takács-Nagy (director) – Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester  28. 4. 2012 (MC)

Portrait of Love

Webern arr. Gerard Schwarz– Langsamer Satz
Brahms arr. Friedrich Hermann– Liebeslieder Waltzes, Op.52
Dvořák arr. David Matthews– Love Songs, Op.83
Tchaikovsky – Souvenir de Florence

Gábor Takács-Nagy and the Manchester Camerata © Manchester Camerata


Gábor Takács-Nagy chose Anton Webern’s Langsamer Satz to open this Manchester Camerata programme titled Portrait of Love at the Royal Northern College of Music concert hall. Just the name of Webern on a concert programme can send shock waves through the body of the average listener. Arnold Schoenberg together with his pupils Webern and Alban Berg were the most prominent composers of the Second Viennese School and advocates of the twelve-tone system of composition. Before coming totally under the spell of Schoenberg, Webern did write music in the late Romantic tradition that owed more to Wagner, Brahms and Richard Strauss. Dating from 1905 the Langsamer Satz for string quartet is such a work, inspired by a romantic walking holiday in the mountains with his cousin Wilhelmine Mörtl; later to be his wife. This score together with the orchestral fantasy Im Sommerwind remained forgotten and unperformed until premièred in the early 1960s. Takács-Nagy conducted the Langsamer Satz (Slow movement) in an arrangement for string orchestra from 1982 prepared by Gerard Schwarz. Comprising of twenty one string players the Manchester Camerata immaculately led by the highly accomplished Adi Brett, produced a heavenly string sound, lush, rich and meltingly romantic.

Love was the inspiration behind the composition of Brahms’s Liebeslieder Waltzes (Lovesong Waltzes), Op.52 a romantic cycle of eighteen songs based on a collection of love poems titled Polydora by Gustav Pfleger-Moravsk. At the timeBrahms was smitten by the charms of Julie the daughter of Robert and Clara Schumann. Committed and assured, Takács-Nagy presented the Liebeslieder Waltzes in Friedrich Hermann’s arrangement for string orchestra that traversed a wide if undemanding variety of moods. Dvořák’s unrequited love for the young actress Josefína Čermáková was the stimulation behind his set of eight Love Songs, Op.83, settings of romantic love poems Cyprise (Cypresses) in Czech by Gustav Pfleger-Moravsky. We heard David Matthews’s 2008/9 arrangement of the Love Songs for voice and string orchestra. Although the music overflowed with the passionate intensity of love sadly the appealing voice of mezzo-soprano Anna Stephany wasn’t always able to project over the glorious strings. A real blunder was the lack of any sung texts with English translations ensuring that the audience could only hear the sound of the words but not understand the meaning.

After the interval the audience was treated to Tchaikovsky’s own string orchestra arrangement of Souvenir de Florence, Op. 70originally composed for string sextet in 1892. The four movement score is a celebration of the time the composer spent in Florence composing his opera The Queen of Spades. With regard to the love interest it seems that Florence was the city where Tchaikovsky became infatuated with a street singer named Vittorio. Florence was also the place where Tchaikovsky had stayed in close proximity to his wealthy patron Nadezhda von Meck whom he had agreed never to meet. Buoyant, windswept playing full of vigour and crackling with energy in the outer movements are the prime memories of the Camerata’s performance. Marked Adagio cantabile e con moto the second movement, with a rather tragic undercurrent, contains a captivating love duet, here beautifully played by leader Adi Brett and cello principal Hannah Roberts. In the third movement Allegretto moderato where one can hear shades of the composer’s ‘American’ Quartet, Takács-Nagy ensured the writing received an impressive flowing, forward momentum with music that just washed over in a sea of sound.

On this form I cannot name a finer string orchestra anywhere than the Manchester Camerata under music director Takács-Nagy. The Camerata’s next concert is on the 26th May at the Bridgwater Hall entitled Portrait of an Englishman, a mouth watering programme of Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Haydn.

Michael Cookson