Mendelssohnian Whimsy and Magic from Manze and RLPO

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Beethoven, Mendelssohn: James Ehnes (violin), Women Members of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Andrew Manze (conductor), Guild Hall, City of Preston, 2.10. 2016. (MC)

Andrew Manze (c) Chris Christodoulou

Beethoven – Violin Concerto

Mendelssohn – Incidental Music – A Midsummer Night’s Dream

The 2016/17 series of six Preston Concerts from the Liverpool Philharmonic features sadly only one concert from the much admired chief conductor Vasily Petrenko. On the other hand, this situation gives an opportunity for the Preston audience to get to know other conductors. In this the opening concert of the season Andrew Manze, who is quickly becoming an audience favourite, was in charge. In association with the Liverpool Phil, Manze is currently recording a complete cycle of Vaughan Williams symphonies.

Originally celebrated as a solo violinist and early music specialist Manze turned to a conducting career about twenty ago. I first met Manze for an interview at Munich in 2010 where he was conducting concerts with the Munich Philharmonic Orchestra.  At the time he was director of the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra, Sweden and is now its honorary conductor. Currently Manze is also principal conductor of the renowned NDR Radiophilharmonie based in Hanover, Germany.

With no overture programmed the concert was certainly on the short side; an all too familiar situation today. It seemed slightly strange to go straight in with a concerto as the opening work which was the enduringly popular Beethoven Violin Concerto with James Ehnes as soloist playing his Marsick Stradivarius (1715). I have seen Ehnes, an always stylish and calmly assured soloist with an innate humility, perform on numerous occasions. He certainly doesn’t treat his strings over harshly relying on accurate playing with a moderate amount of vibrato producing a sound that felt decidedly congenial yet not short on character. In the opening movement, after the cadenza with its timpani part, the lyric melody was played with the warmest of hearts by Ehnes. There was some attractive playing from the orchestra; especially affecting was the lyrical passage in the fourth variation of the slow movement, tenderly decorated and delightfully accompanied by the clarinets and bassoons. The second cadenza that links the Larghetto to the Finale was played remarkably by Ehnes with a dazzling level of exuberance I’ve not previously seen from this soloist. Manze directed splendid orchestral accompaniment and was not afraid to demand bite and weight from his players when needed. In response to the warm audience applause for his encore Ehnes gave the Preludio in D major by J.S. Bach.

The last time I saw Manze conduct the Liverpool Phil it was at Preston with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’. Today in the second half to mark the four-hundredth anniversary of Shakespeare’s death we heard Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream based on the Bard’s famous comedy. Manze’s taking the microphone for a short but highly humorous explanation of the work to preface the performance was well received. Remarkably the overture was written when Mendelssohn was only in his mid-teens with the remainder of the incidental music for the Shakespeare play written some sixteen years later, recapturing the fairyland dream world of his youth. Lodging in the memory were the truly delightful fairy music of the Overture and the horn playing in the lovely Nocturne depicting sleeping lovers. Well prepared and impressive the women of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir, a fifty-five strong charm of fairies, sang the vocal section Ye spotted snakes impeccably. The Dance of Clowns, complete at the start with a mobile phone ringing, featured some charming wind playing with the solo clarinet sounding particularly engaging. Throughout Manze and his players managed to depict both the spirit of whimsy and the magic of Shakespeare’s ethereal world. Slightly more gossamer lightness and a smoother flow would not have gone amiss yet I can’t imagine anyone coming away less than enchanted.

Michael Cookson

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