REVIEW: Piano 2009

Posted on March 3, 2009

Robert Beale reviews Manchester Camerata’s contribution to Piano 2009 in CityLife

The piano festival at the Bridgewater Hall began with two programmes that could hardly have been more widely contrasted.

First, artistic director Barry Douglas delivered the two Brahms concertos in a single programme

It was a massive undertaking, not so much because of the stamina needed – we know Barry Douglas has that – but because of the artistic challenge of two emotional mountain-top experiences.

No problems with no. 1: with Yan Pascal Tortelier conducting the Hallé (it was a Thursday series concert as well as the festival opener, and got a packed house), expression ran from grim determination to beatific warmth in the first movement, had hushed intensity in the second, and blossomed into joy in the finale.

But to follow that in no. 2? It was almost tame in contrast – until Douglas surprised us with the tenderness of his solos in the Andante, and delicacy and grace flowered in the orchestra in the finale, with a wonderfully inscrutable ending.

Joanna MacGregor took charge of Manchester Camerata on Saturday, with a smaller audience but a more stimulating programme. She played and directed in Britten’s Young Apollo, Mozart’s ‘Jeunehomme’ piano concerto (no. 9), three tangos (her own arrangements) by Piazzolla, and James MacMillan’s second piano concerto.

The Britten could have been better with a larger orchestra; the Mozart could hardly have been improved on for intimacy of style and the partnership of soloist and leader (Richard Howarth).

The Piazzolla, with string quintet, made a muddy sound, except in the middle violin solo.

But the MacMillan – a typical combination of obscurantism and anarchic whoopee, with a mad final ceilidh (drum solos by MacGregor and even madder cadenza) – was worth waiting for.

As was the cheeky grin at the end with which she showed that she, for one, had had a whale of a time.

See the review in Citylife