Serving as an antidote to the wintry weather that had been lashing against the car on my motorway journey to the Royal Northern College of Music, Gábor Takács-Nagy revived the spirits with a marvellously chosen and performed programme. Only last year Gábor Takács-Nagy had programmed Manchester Camerata concerts with Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Haydn and he must have been delighted how well they were received. Including the music of those same composers tonight, augmented by a Mozart piano concerto ensured a full house and seemed to galvanise the Camerata into a stunning performance especially highly spirited with an abundance of vitality.
Vaughan Williams's Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus for string orchestra including harp opened the concert an intoxication of glorious music setting the mood for what was to follow. At one point Takács-Nagy accelerated the pace a little too fiercely for my liking although there was much to admire in his interpretation. The playing of the Camerata strings was so outstanding it felt as if they had been dipped in liquid gold and the leader Adi Brett and principal cellist Hannah Roberts, both exceptional artists, played their solos with sweet glowing tones.
Providing a stark contrast to what had gone before was the recently premièred score Lessons of the Ice-House from Manchester Camerata composer in residence Christopher Mayo. Lasting around 5 minutes by my reckoning this short work was performed by Hannah Roberts accompanied by a single note drone from the Camerata Strings. Initially I was reminded of John Tavener's composition The Protecting Veil for cello and strings. Holding the attention reasonably well Mayo's score began to feel increasingly minimalistic and restless with the soloist creating a number of interesting timbres and sonorities.
Ingrid Fliter was the soloist in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 in A major and it didn't take long to sense just how much the Argentinian pianist was enjoying her playing. When I last heard Fliter as soloist it was with the Liverpool Philharmonic playing the Chopin First Piano Concerto at the Preston Guild Hall and her sound was rather swamped by the orchestra. Clearly relishing the more intimate setting and improved acoustics Fliter was in sparkling form demonstrating charming vibrancy with such high quality pianism. In the Andante the emotional core of the work Fliter conveyed a rare poetry, generous in both sensitivity and grace. Fliter's enthusiasm was infectious and from the extent of the applause she had clearly captivated the Manchester audience who were treated to an encore of Chopin's D flat major Waltz better known as the Minute Waltz – an entertaining work that never fails to please.
After suitable refreshment the audience was treated to Elgar's own orchestration of his two salon pieces originally for violin and piano – the captivating Chanson de Matin and Chanson de Nuit. What glorious miniatures they are with the Camerata giving a performance full of Elgarian tenderness and affection!
Takács-Nagy clearly has an innate sensitivity for conducting Haydn. Born in Budapest only a relatively short distance from Haydn's birthplace the maestro seems to have the music of Haydn running through his veins. Showing his mettle Takács-Nagy delivered the Symphony No. 101 in D major 'The Clock' with all the piercing lucidity that has become his hallmark. Especially impressive was the Camerata's well blended sound standing out in such a zestful interpretation of Haydn's multicoloured symphonic romp. For an encore the audience was served with more English music: an attractive rendition of Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on Greensleeves.
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Mozart III with Ferenc Rados is at the RNCM on 20 April 2013, click here for more details