Review: Camerata on Fire in Stafford

Posted on November 8, 2010

Chris Ramsden reviews Manchester Camerata’s concert at the Gatehouse Theatre in Stafford on 5 November in his blog Notes from Middle England:

Manchester Camerata Pictures from St Petersburg   Bonfire night. Fireworks outside the Gatehouse Theatre in Stafford and inside as the Manchester Camerata was put through its paces by its music director designate Gábor Takács-Nagy. You probably expected me to use that line, but clichés become clichés because they express a truth.

It was the maestro’s first appearance in Stafford with his orchestra-to-be (there’s a final appearance at the Gatehouse in May with Douglas Boyd, the man who’s meant so much to the Camerata; not to be missed.)

He began by conducting the audience. What I mean is, this is a man so accustomed to expressing himself through his arms and fingers that he used them just for talking, as he told us about Mozart.

For conducting, he used them even more, carving the notes out of the air, pulling them from the violins and pushing them into the brass.

His background is in the string quartet — he helped found and was leader of the famous Hungarian Takács Quartet.

I think that showed in his attention to detail; he was continually adjusting bits of the orchestra to produce the sound he wanted.

In this case, the concert was called “Spirit of Mozart”, and he was surely full of it. His overture to Don Giovanni was full of strong accents and explosive moments; the Jupiter symphony, number 41, was swift and strong, apart from the third movement, which was slower and with much more swing than I’ve heard before. It somehow re-created the atmosphere of a grand Viennese ball.

But the most remarkable for me was his conducting of Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro for Strings. It seemed to be completely free of the excesses of “English” performances, without slides, pauses or emotional hesitation. It was just a fine re-creation of a first-class composition which ought to be in the international repertoire. The Camerata’s strings fought hard to respond to his vision.

Also outstanding was the performance of Mozart’s 23rd piano concerto, K488, the one which opens and closes in bright sunlight, but has an astounding, troubling slow movement which digs deep into some pit of introspection.

The soloist here was also new to the audience in Stafford; well, actually, she was new to any audience in Europe. After starting her career in China, she moved to the United States in 2000, and her trip to Europe is apparently her reward for winning the gold medal in the Virginia Waring International Piano Competition. Remember, we saw her here first.

She’s plainly completely at home in front of an orchestra, responding to them and playing precisely with them. She flung off the runs and scales which make up so much of the work with fluid ease, and her strong left hand was there to point up the phrases. Could she have put more into that slow movement? But then, could anyone fully do it justice?

She’s contracted at the moment to work with the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra. I must confess I’d never even heard of Jacksonville before, but it’s apparently the largest city in the United States in land area. It has even more rain than Manchester, but is in Florida, so has warm winters and very hot summers. Hmmm…. Manchester or Jacksonville… which is best? She’ll be back.

Read the whole review on Chris Ramsden’s Blog

Read more about Gábor Takács-Nagy