To Manchester for the fortieth birthday concert of the Manchester Camerata at Bridgewater Hall. ‘We are one of Manchester’s three orchestras,’ the Chief Executive insists, ‘not Manchester’s third orchestra.’ The Hallé and BBC Phil are bigger, but the Camerata is lithe, intimate and viable, an expanded quartet rather than a reduced symphony orchestra just as their new conductor Gabor Takacs-Nagy, founding violinist of the Takacs string quartet, would have it. Indeed, they tackle Bartok’s Concerto for Two Pianos and Percussion as if it were still the jewel-like Sonata of its original form, the four soloists prominent, the orchestra a discreet splash of background colour and atmosphere. Their bow ends are just visible keeping precise time behind the world’s greatest percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie and the orchestra’s own timpanist Julie Fulton, standing like twin pillars on either side of the batonless conductor who moulds the plasticine sound with his fiddler’s hands. The pianists Philip Smith and Noriko sit back to back at the front like disagreeing neighbours, he sparking a waltz, she a jig, he glissandoing, she playing themes, until Glennie silences the pair with her incisive, thrilling xylophone.
Takacs-Nagy appears with a mike while the stage hands clear the battery. ‘We Hungarians never won a war,’ he jokes modestly, ‘but we do not lack passion.’ This is demonstrated in his countryman Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta whose folk rhythms and tunes the Mancunians play as if it were the Matra mountains and not Manchester’s breast-like hills they lived among. The charismatic leader Giovanni Guzzo is a Venezuelan product of el sistema who urges the players on as they trace Takacs-Nagy’s volatile beat. The strings dry tone is grittily expressive as they emphasise the first syllable stresses of the Hungarian phrase. A clarinet with gleaming, silver tone wins a thunderous round of applause for her virtuosic cadenza.
For Haydn’s Symphony No104 ‘London’ the Camerata plays standing up as if a game of musical chairs has ensued during the interval and the cellos, who alone are exempt, won. Guzzo now bobs and weaves with Haydn’s spritely dances and the electric pulse courses through the floor and into the musicians’ frames. The andante has a sadness that bespeaks the composer’s unsatisfactory private life at home in Eisenstadt, but the scherzo has a frisson that reflects his excitement at being away. The Camerata launch into the merry maypole dance of the finale with all the verve and innocence of townsfolk on holiday, showing for all that they are as able to change to as many moods and emotions as the weather.