Manchester Camerata Appeals to a Younger Audience with an Entertaining Concert

Gabor Takacs-Nagy and Manchester Camerata
Gabor Takács-Nagy and Manchester Camerata (c) Manchester Camerata

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Rossini, Chabrier, Rodrigo, Lennon/McCartney, Beethoven: Craig Ogden (guitar), Manchester Camerata/Gabor Takács-Nagy  (conductor), Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 26.9.2015. (MC)

Rossini: The Barber of Seville overture
Chabrier: España (arranged Simon Parkin)
Rodrigo: Concerto de Aranjuez
Lennon/McCartney: Yesterday (arranged Toru Takemitsu)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 ‘Eroica’

Entitled ‘España, Beethoven & The Beatles’ this Manchester Camerata concert season opener had a really wide appeal and looking at the much younger than average age profile of the large Bridgewater audience its marketing strategy is certainly paying dividends. ‘The Beatles’ in the title referred to the inclusion of the Lennon/McCartney song ‘Yesterday’ a planned encore piece played by Craig Ogden who was replacing heart throb classical guitarist Miloš Karadaglić who had withdrawn through injury.

Craig Ogden talked to the audience easily and with humour before embarking on the mega popular Concerto de Aranjuez by Joaquín Rodrigo, the blind composer who didn’t actually play the guitar himself. A romantic protagonist himself Ogden’s immaculate playing and Rodrigo’s wonderful score combined to convey some of the colourful essence of Spain. Making everything look so easy Ogden played the famous slow movement sensitively with relaxed rhapsodic introspection. Especially gratifying was the Allegro gentile notable for the soloist’s sultry dialogue with the cor anglais played by Mary Gilbert. Clearly the audience loved Ogden’s performance as they did his delightful encore Lennon/McCartney celebrated song Yesterday in Toru Takemitsu’s arrangement for solo guitar.

I’ve lost count of the number of times that I’ve seen Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (the ‘Pastoral’) performed in concert. Originally titled ‘recollections of life in the country’ this overtly programmatic score is Beethoven’s homage to nature and the countryside. Takács-Nagy’s buoyant and engaging interpretation with the forty-strong Manchester Camerata was punctuated by an abundance of fresh thoughts. Keeping things simple the Hungarian maestro eschewed any challenging tempo selection and outlandish interpretative liberties. Notable was the opening movement ‘Awakening of cheerful feelings of life upon arrival in the countryside’ that felt like opening the door to a bucolic Tyrolean vista. Compellingly evocative the ‘Scene by the Brook’ flowed genially and created an enchanting mood. Curiously in the ‘Thunderstorm’ section the threat of menace was missing in a fairly unspectacular portrayal. Throughout the silvery high strings excelled yet ideally I wanted a more solid sound than the rather modest number of twenty-four strings could provide. Characteristic of the Camerata was its beautifully blended woodwind with unruffled, colourful brass all combining to illumine the writing with splendid individual contributions from clarinetist Jill Allen and oboist Rachel Clegg. I’m sure to hear more exciting performances of the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony but few as fresh and beautifully phrased as under Takács-Nagy.

Displaying its España theme the concert opened in a mightily buoyant fashion with Rossini’s Overture to ‘The Barber of Seville’ followed by a colourful rendition of Chabrier’s España in an arrangement for chamber orchestra by Simon Parkin.

Getting somewhat carried away by the light-hearted mood that Takács-Nagy had encouraged one of the two percussionists pretended to hit the other with maracas – all rather silly when concentrating on playing them properly would have been the preferred option. An initiative named ‘The Camerata Stage Experience’ involved ten audience members sitting in with the orchestra for the symphony which was rather distracting. I’m struggling to see the value this idea added to the concert. Still, the audience gave an enthusiastic response. Despite my couple of grumbles this was a concert high on entertainment.

Michael Cookson