REVIEW: Sound and Music
Posted on September 27, 2011
The critic Michael Cookson attended the Portrait of an Hungarian: Part 1 Concert on Saturday 24 September, and reviewed the programme for the influential MusicWeb Sound and Music International review website
“The spirit of Hungarian folk music was the heart of this programme by the Manchester Camerata conducted by Budapest born Gábor Takács-Nagy in his inaugural season as their Music Director. On the evidence of this concert, Portrait of an Hungarian (Part 1), the Manchester Camerata have found their ideal match in Mr Takács-Nagy.
Haydn was Austrian born in a town extremely close to the Hungarian border. He wrote over a dozen concertos for keyboard instruments. Many are deemed spurious with only three piano concertos having the seal of authentication. Award winning French soloist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet elected to play the most admired of the series No.11 in D Major from Haydn’s time working for Hungarian nobility as Kapellmeister to Prince Esterházy.
And what an engaging interpretation of the concerto Bavouzet treated the audience to. The spontaneity of the delightful Vivace created real exhilaration and the exuberance of the Rondo all‘Ungarese provided an uplifting conclusion. Elegantly played Bavouzet’s lovely performance of the Adagio virtually transported the audience to the Esterházy Palace. With a soloist of Bavouzet’s quality it was a shame we only heard him perform for the meagre 22 minutes or so it took to pay the Haydn concerto.
Hungarian born Bartók, one of the most important composers of the 20th century, was a great collector of Magyar folk song. Not heard too often in concert, Bartók’s Divertimento for strings displays considerable folk music influences combined with neo-classical characteristics. Traditionally most Divertimenti from Classical masters Mozart, Haydn and Boccherini would inhabit a world of light-hearted entertainment. In the hands of Bartók the Divertimento’s generally carefree mood is superficial. Under the surface is an unsettling undercurrent – no doubt a likely reaction to the fear and turmoil of the impending war against Nazi Germany. Under Takács-Nagy’s promptings the Camerata’s twenty-two lustrous strings compellingly characterised the score providing a positive buoyancy and immediacy that would be hard to match. I especially enjoyed the cool stark beauty of the Molto adagio with its claustrophobic feel and sense of underlying foreboding. The short solo cello passages from Hannah Roberts were marvellously performed.
It is good to see the music of the progressive and prolific Hungarian composer Franz Liszt receiving significant attention in this his bicentennial year. I generally love Liszt’s music but I have never been entirely convinced by his work for strings. In Angélus! Prière aux anges gardiens (Angélus! Prayer to the guardian angels) we heard what was originally one of the piano pieces from Liszt’s third set of Années de Pèlerinage (Years of Pilgrimage) in an arrangement for string orchestra. This is an even-tempered score inspired by the tolling of the Angelus bells in Rome and the Camerata’s playing wove a canvas of reverential contemplation. There was a tone of warm ardour to the string section and the short episode for soaring high strings was gloriously spun. The piece ended with the solo violin beautifully played by Adi Brett who led the orchestra. Stravinsky’s Concerto in D major ‘Basle’ or the Shostakovich Chamber Symphony, Op. 110a would have made more rewarding choices but then the Hungarian connection would have been broken.
Its always good to hear a Haydn symphony in performance and to close the concert we were treated to the Symphony No.49 ‘La Passione’ (The Passion), a product of the composer’s Sturm und Drang (Storm and Stress) period. One of the greatest pranksters in music, Haydn is heard here in a more buttoned up mood. Haydn scholar H.C. Robbins Landon described the score as “dark-hued, somber – even tragic.” In the solemn opening I was struck by the razor sharp precision of the strings that just glowed with character. Breezy, bustling and darting the Allegro was played with great determination and brio. There was a restrained elegance to the Minuet with a welcome passage featuring the five well blended winds. After the reserve of the previous movement followed the very brief Finale: a stirring Presto lasting around three minutes. Overall I was struck how Takács-Nagy fashioned his interpretation with an unerring sense of proportion.
Portrait of an Hungarian, was a highly satisfying concert wonderfully played. The quality of the Manchester Camerata can be compared to a precious gemstone. Beautiful and expressive playing, impressive tonal blend and body, and impeccable unity are the hallmarks of these talented players who did an excellent job for Gábor Takács-Nagy.”