Strauss’s Voice – Manchester Confidential

Posted on February 22, 2014

Heroes and Tyrants
Saturday 22 February
The Bridgewater Hall

I LOVE the acoustics of the Bridgewater Hall, but I’ve never sampled them from the front row before. So after the precise bravura of the Camerata’s Eroica, enjoyed from the Circle, it felt decidedly disorienting to descend to the Stalls and stare up directly at a 23-strong string ensemble, picked from the orchestra, performing Richard Strauss’s elegiac late masterpiece, Metamorphosen.

My wife nonplussed one of the violins, a former pupil, by waving to her; I was distracted by the clip-clop of conductor Gabor Takacs-Nagy’s patent pumps as he summoned his reduced forces and became enmeshed in the emotional concentration of first violin Adi Brett; rarely, does orchestral music become this intimate.

While Prince across the city was treating his rock audience to an evolving series of encores, this performance, too, was an encore of a kind, the audience restricted to ground level after 20 minutes re-setting the stage after the concert proper.

Those who stayed (some didn’t) were treated to yet another orchestral delight in the Strauss’s Voice festival. Delight is perhaps the wrong word to describe an old man’s despair at the Second World War destruction of Mitteleuropa’s opera houses and obituary for the culture his music is rooted in – the funeral march from Beethoven’s Eroica is referenced – but there is a joy in the healing power of music that shines through the sadness in the Camerata’s glorious performance.

The three actual vocal works, Das Bachlein, Meinem Kinde and Mein Auge and were beguiling but slight, soprano Ruby Hughes slightly engulfed by the orchestral accompaniment. Meinem Kinde (To My Child) was sketched for voice and piano to celebrate his wife Pauline’s pregnancy before being orchestrated and has much musically in common with the vocal lines of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, itself influenced by Mozart opera.

So it was a canny piece of programming to close part one with that sprightliest of Mozart piano concertos, No 25 in C, performed vivaciously by Bridgewater favourite Paul Lewis, the rondo finale a particular treat, before preparing the ground for the Metamorphosen with the Eroica Symphony.

As well as Strauss’s Voice, the concert formed part the of BH’s International Concert Series. It was tagged Heroes & Tyrants since the Eroica portrays Beethoven’s allegiance to Napoleon and Strauss had his own ambiguous relationship with the Nazi hierarchy (Das Bachlein was dedicated to Goebbels for a favour – he soon regretted it).

Some critics have suggested Metamorphosen, written in the closing days of the War, was somehow an elegy for Hitler. I find it hard to believe a work so beautiful could be so tarnished.

Manchester Confidential – Strauss’s Voice, Reviewer – Neil Sowerby