United Kingdom Britten, Chopin, Barber, Beethoven. Dejan Lazić (piano), Manchester Camerata, Gábor Takács-Nagy (conductor), Manchester Cathedral, Manchester. 18.4.2015 (LB)
Britten – Young Apollo, Op.16
Chopin – Piano Concerto No.2 in F Minor, Op.21
Barber – Adagio for Strings, Op.11
Beethoven – String Quartet in F Minor, Op.95, ‘Serioso’ (arr. Gustav Mahler)
Concerts in cathedrals can usually be unsatisfactory experiences, on account of poor sight lines, excessively reverberant acoustics, severe cold and uncomfortable seating, but the Manchester Camerata ‘s concert in Manchester Cathedral this evening proved to be a pleasant exception in many respects, even if the problem of sight lines remained an insoluble challenge.
Their programme was one in which the string quartet featured in a number of ways; the orchestra’s music director, Gábor Takács-Nagy was of course the founder and leader of the celebrated Takács string quartet, and every piece he conducted enjoyed some relationship with the string quartet.
Britten’s Young Apollo is scored for solo piano, string quartet and string orchestra, Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto was performed in the version with string quartet, albeit with augmented string sections and the addition of double basses. Barber’s now popular arrangement for string orchestra of the Adagio from his Op.11 string quartet was made at the behest of Toscanini, and Gustav Mahler arranged Beethoven’s Quartet Op. 95 for string orchestra.
Piano soloist Dejan Lazić made his first appearance in Britten’s Apollo, a work that the composer chose to withdraw after its first performance. Lazić, the orchestra, and the string quartet, under the meticulous direction of Gábor Takács-Nagy gave a boisterous and dazzling performance of this sparkling work, and it proved to be a fitting curtain raiser to the Chopin.
Accompanying the bel canto and florid passagework of Chopin’s piano concertos can be challenging, but Takács-Nagy and The Camerata fared exceptionally well, providing well-judged and sensitive support, tantalizing colour and rhythmic urgency. Dejan Lazić acquitted himself well and he enjoyed a seemingly relaxed rapport with the orchestra.
Barber’s Adagio began the second half, and although it was affectionately crafted, would have benefitted from a more searing intensity from the upper strings in the haunting climax.
Purists oppose the performance of string quartet repertoire in arrangements for string orchestra, but Takács-Nagy and The Camerata had no qualms about doing so. Their highly nuanced performance, of great power and intensity, was a potent vindication of Mahler’s view that in such arrangements he “unravels the expansion that is dormant in the voices and gives the sounds wings.”
A well conceived and executed programme was further enhanced by Gábor Takács-Nagy’s engaging introductions, in which he delighted in sharing little nuggets of information about the pieces and the composers, to which he believed the audience might not necessarily be privy.