9 October Concert Review / CityLife

Posted on October 13, 2009

“…a considerable achievement and one of the best things Boyd has ever done…”

Halle / Manchester Camerata


THE three-in-a-row schedule at the Bridgewater Hall last week inevitably had its effect on attendance. Manchester Camerata, sandwiched on Friday between the Hallé the night before and the BBC Philharmonic the night after, suffered in particular.

Which was a pity, because they gave one of the most stimulating performances of Beethoven’s eighth symphony I’ve ever heard.

But back to the Hallé, and Sir Mark Elder’s eclectic choice. He began with Vaughan Williams’ Heroic Elegy and Triumphal Epilogue, proudly announced as having not been professionally performed for over 100 years.

Splendid showpiece
It buffed up well, the conductor enjoying the sumptuous scoring of the latter part and probably in line for the title of ‘Glorious Mark’, if VW is still bestowing such accolades in another sphere.

It was followed by a complete contrast: Mozart’s piano concerto no. 24, with a much reduced orchestra and the wonderful Lars Vogt the soloist. He got quite carried away by the burst of tragic feeling that led to his first movement cadenza – and reflected the piece’s strange and contradictory qualities in that cadenza, too.

The same happened in the finale: it’s strange to think of dapper Mozart expressing red-mist anger in his music, but he made a memorable case for the idea.

Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra and John Adams’ rhythmic workout Short Ride In A Fast Machine were odd bed-fellows after that, but they put the large orchestral forces to work, each a splendid showpiece in its way.

Douglas Boyd had a surprise in his Camerata programme: Kurt Schwertsik’s Shrunken Symphony, written in 1999. Six minutes long, it’s a joke piece which in some respects sends up the whole idea of the Beethoven tradition. But then, maybe Beethoven himself did it first, in the eighth symphony?

The juxtaposition made the point effectively, and the Beethoven (recorded for CD issue) was alive with vigour, wacky accents, sudden lurches into lyricism and, by the end, a kind of inverted heroism.

Everything stayed musical and proportioned, though – a considerable achievement and one of the best things Boyd has ever done here.

Brahms’s first piano concerto, with soloist Jonathan Biss, in the second half, could hardly be other than an anti-climax, and indeed he seemed intent on making it such, with a measured (though virtuosic) and moderately-powered account.

His approach came into its own in the central slow movement, though, when the balance with the orchestra was right and the playing deeply thought and eloquent.

Reviewed in CityLife: Mon, 12 October, 2009
By Robert Beale