United Kingdom Beethoven, Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Rossini: Lawrence Power (viola), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Andrew Manze (conductor). Guild Hall, City of Preston, Lancashire, 26.4.2017. (MC)
Beethoven – Overture, Coriolan
Berlioz – Harold in Italy
Mendelssohn – Symphony No.4 ‘Italian’
Rossini – Overture, William Tell
Following a successful career on the period instrument scene as a baroque violinist Andrew Manze is now making quite a name for himself on the podium. From my experience his concerts are always enormously enjoyable and often prove to be very special evenings that linger long in the memory. I still remember fondly in 2010 at the Philharmonie Munich reporting from a concert with Manze conducting the Münchner Philharmoniker in a fascinating programme of Britten and Purcell.
This was Manze’s second concert at the Preston Series this season and he chose an attractive programme of Romantic era works from a quartet of master composers. It’s apparent that many enjoy Manze’s easy way of communicating with the audience prior to opening the concert as he talked a little about the works he was going to conduct and how each had a connection to Italy.
Commencing the concert, Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture is a work that I don’t hear too often tending to be overshadowed by those he composed for Leonore and Fidelio. It was pleasing to reacquaint myself with this fine score written for Heinrich Joseph von Collin’s 1804 tragedy Coriolan based on the legendary Roman general Coriolanus. The opening certainly packed a dramatic punch and combined with its appealing themes Manze ensured the heroic, rousing character of the writing shone through brightly.
Certainly an idiosyncratic work I couldn’t help thinking how cutting edge Berlioz’s Harold in Italy would have been at the time of its première. Commissioned by the great virtuoso Paganini to show off his recently acquired Stradivarius viola it was no surprise that he initially rejected the score to Harold in Italy. What Paganini wanted was a traditional concerto to display his virtuosity but Harold in Italy isn’t that type of score. Like a wandering minstrel the soloist is relatively free from excessive technical display and rests for much of the time. Inspired by Lord Byron’s narrative poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage Berlioz visualised the solo viola in four scenes as representing the incurable romantic dreamer Childe-Harold on his wanderings through Italy.
What to do during Childe-Harold’s long rests has been a perennial problem for any solo violist. In 2010 in Berlin I reported from a performance of Harold in Italy with the touring LSO under Daniel Harding with Tabea Zimmermann as viola soloist. Then Zimmermann made a deliberate decision to sit on a stool when she (depicting the Childe-Harold) wasn’t playing during the longer rests. In 2011 I reported at a performance with Lawrence Power playing Harold in Italy with the Hallé under Sir Mark Elder in Manchester. Towards the conclusion of the score, during the longest period when the viola was silent, Power walked off the stage. At the appropriate time he reappeared and continued to play his ghostly passage flamboyantly from a position high at the rear of the stage, at the side of the organ loft. Here at Preston, Power was in remarkable form although I’m not sure where he disappeared off to. I could hear him play his ghostly passage but not see him. Not that it matters too much but I think he was behind a screen with three other string players who had also left the stage to play for a few measures. I’m glad Manze had outlined that the soloist and some players would be leaving the stage. It prevented many of the audience unfamiliar with the work being left puzzled where the soloist had gone. Wondering if there was a problem? Had he broke a string? Was he suddenly taken ill? Would he be coming back? More importantly it stopped the audience concentration being disrupted and breaking the spell. Manze ensured that the players wrapped the audience in warm, glowing swathes of romantic sound and was careful not to swamp the soloist with excessive weight or volume, an aspect that occurred in the Hallé concert mentioned above.
After the interval we were treated to a performance of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.4 widely known as the ‘Italian’. Joyous and uplifting it’s a work that isn’t heard as often as one might expect or as much as its inherent quality deserves. Assured and as dynamic as ever on the podium Manze directed an impressive performance that felt fresh and alert with noticeably modest string vibrato, no doubt as a product of his period performance practice origins. Marked Saltarello: Presto I marvelled at the Mendelssohnian high spirits and youthful abandon that Manze supplied in the dance infused Finale. It comes as no surprise that Manze has already released a recording pairing Mendelssohn’s First and Third Symphonies that he recorded as principal conductor with the NDR Radiophilharmonie on Pentatone an album certainly worth looking out for.
From the grand opera William Tell portraying the notable figure in Swiss patriotism written by the Italian Rossini for Paris audiences the Overture, a perennial favourite, never fails to delight. It’s really a miniature tone poem in four distinct sections. There can’t be too many who don’t remember the foot tapping overture finale used as the theme to the American radio and television shows of The Lone Ranger. The Liverpool Phil genuinely entered into the spirit of the work and especially memorable was the slow Prelude the beautifully played passage for solo cello with a quartet of cellos accompanied by basses.
Under Manze’s baton this was a successful group performance from the Liverpool Phil however I must remark on the ravishing playing all evening of the principal oboe and cor anglais plus the admirable horn section who excelled all evening.