United Kingdom Richard Strauss, Mozart, Beethoven: Ruby Hughes (soprano), Paul Lewis (piano), Manchester Camerata/Gábor Takács-Nagy, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 22.2.2014 (MC)
Richard Strauss: 3 songs for small orchestra:
Das Bächlein, Op. 88/1
Meinem Kinde, Op. 37/3
Mein Auge, Op. 37/4
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major, K.503
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 ‘Eroica’
The concert was being broadcast live by BBC Radio 3.
The Manchester Camerata under music director Gábor Takács-Nagy usually play two or three times at the Bridgewater Hall each season, and who of those present can forget the quite stunning concert the orchestra gave last June with internationally renowned pianist Martha Argerich? This Bridgwater Hall concert is the Manchester Camerata’s contribution to the three month series of concerts titled Strauss’s Voice to honour the 150th birthday of Richard Strauss.
I’ve attended several concerts of the Strauss’s Voice series and have enjoyed every note of the Strauss orchestral songs in which I have been able to hear the singing. As Strauss’s Voice has clearly demonstrated few singers seem to have the capacity to excel with these fiendishly difficult orchestral songs and project their voice to all corners of the Bridgwater Hall. Tonight, even with Strauss’s lighter chamber orchestration and having the text to follow in the programme, the words of these three songs performed by soprano Ruby Hughes were barely audible. There were no such problems when replaying the concert on the Radio 3 Listen Again facility with the BBC recording engineers balancing Ruby Hughes’s miked voice superbly in the mix. Hughes has an attractive voice that conveyed an intimate expressiveness for the text. Rather less attractive was her delivery of the highest notes which is given to shrillness. I’m unclear why the three chosen songs were so ridiculously short in duration – less than nine minutes in total from start to finish. It just doesn’t make sense for the set to finish just as the soprano was fully warmed up and no doubt raring to carry on.
It’s hard not to feel roused by the jubilant opening chords of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C major and in the capable hands of soloist Paul Lewis and the Manchester Camerata the performance from the first note to the last proved to be a rewarding one. I was immediately struck by the clean and precise articulation of the assured Lewis with his seemingly effortless flow across the keys. In the outer movements Lewis played with a remarkable blend of seriousness and determination ensuring a judicious amount of flowing lyrical drive. The Andante with its charming orchestral introduction was beautifully shaped by Lewis, heartfelt but never sentimenta; it always feels as if Mozart is keeping the full extent of his passion in check. An extremely popular and talented soloist, Lewis’s resolute endeavours ensured a warm applause from the Manchester audience.
Beethoven’s revolutionary ‘Eroica’ Symphony is generally thought to have been originally dedicated to Napoleon but later the score was rededicated ‘to the memory of a great man’. Just prior to the start conductor Gábor Takács-Nagy explained to the audience that according to an essay by Wagner the ‘Eroica’ Symphony was not a portrait of a military hero like Napoleon but a portrait of Beethoven himself through all his emotional struggles in life. It’s an interesting thought! Containing what felt like just the right amount of power and intensity Takács-Nagy ensured the Camerata’s rhythms were crisply sprung and established a glowing lyrical feel. Tension and agitation saturated the second movement Funeral March that felt almost suffocating. At last in the Finale: Allegro molto relief from the tormented world with Takács-Nagy securing from his players an uplifting sense of liberation of the human spirit. Yes, there were one or two slightly frayed corners, principally intonation problems in the horn section, especially noticeable in the Scherzo. Overall Takács-Nagy with all his usual clarity directed exhilarating playing high on drama and compelling mighty too.
There’s a growing tendency for orchestras to play an additional work after the end of the concert. Twenty minutes or so after the main concert the Camerata played Strauss’s Metamorphosen: A study for 23 solo strings, which is a work I have heard the orchestra play previously under Takács-Nagy at a Portrait of War concert in 2012 and how marvellously well they played it too. But this practice shows scant regard for the large numbers of the audience that need to travel home on a winter’s evening, some over considerable distances. Why on earth the Metamorphosen was not included to add to the appeal of the main concert is a mystery!