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REVIEW - Manchester Camerata Mozart Finale, Bridgewater Hall
Tue 7th Jun 2016 - 11:41

NEWS Ray Chen MCR Confidential review

THIS finale of the Camerata season was a triumph, a celebration of the ensemble playing which makes this orchestra, under its dynamic, likable music director, Gábor Takács-Nagy, such a pleasure to hear.

The programme, all Mozart – violin concertos 3 and 4 bookended by two symphonies – worked well. The bold and boisterous Haffner with its contained serenade of an andante kicked off the evening with classical assurance. This poignant, second movement gave a welcome pause for meditation before a return to the party energy two last movements.

The final piece, Symphony No. 39, is one of three symphonies written in 1788, three years before his death. Introduced by Gábor as an operatic narrative with dramatised suspense and shifting moods, it took us to another level, pushing the boundaries of form, suggesting the great Romantics to follow and prompting the always beguiling question – what would Mozart have done next? The shifts of tone and key were brought out sensitively by the Camerata with clarinets in the foreground, often holding the folk influenced melody of the minuet. The whole orchestra, not to mention the conductor, brought a precise but explosive energy to the finale.

But it was “meat in the sandwich”, the violin concertos, that left a lasting impact, partly because of Mozart but mostly thanks to another young genius, the Taiwanese soloist Ray Chen (pictured) with his Joachim Stradivarius. It is a rare treat to hear one of these instruments played live and to imagine who might have played or shared the stage with it since its 1715 debut. But Chen and the Strad were clearly a partnership.

As he listened for his first cue, violin dangling precariously from one hand, he could have been a schoolboy fiddler making his tentative debut – until he touched the strings, when, with astonishing confidence and verve, he led from the front, especially in the third concerto, where the soloist introduces and “feeds” many of the musical ideas to the orchestra, setting up a dynamic rapport. The instrument’s tone and range, from the cantilena in the adagio ( a notturno) of the third to the virtuoso takes on folk tunes in the fourth, was incredible.

There ought to be a vocabulary for the tone of violins as extensive as that for wine tasting. I want to shout forest floor, gooseberry in the top notes, cadence of plum and black cherry but I’m stuck with mellow and honeyed. One thing is for sure, though; it had a long finish and the notes have certainly lingered.

The unstuffy camaraderie, always a feature of this orchestra, was there in the banter between conductor and soloist (we even did a video on Chen’s phone to wish absent soloist Nicola Benedetti, who he had replaced, a swift recovery) and, for the 39th, the orchestra were joined on stage by members of the audience – strictly non-participants.

This was a superb finale to a fascinating, varied season. We look forward to the next and watch out eagerly for the rising star, Ray Chen, the lad with the Strad.

- Neil Sowerby, review originally featured at Manchester Confidential

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