October 21, 2012

“I like Haydn, he’s like a Santa Claus of music..”


… said my date for the evening, after conductor Gábor Takács-Nagy introduced Haydn’s Symphony No. 92 “Oxford” and mentioned that Haydn had felt at the end of his life that it was his obligation to lift people’s spirits with the gift of music that God had bestowed upon him. The Manchester Camerata ended off the concert playing Haydn as meticulously as Haydn had written the music, with the sweet opening breaking off into the joyous Allegro. The Minuet was particularly memorable, for Takács-Nagy was almost dancing on the podium, and it looked as though the whole orchestra was dancing along with him, especially the strings, who were standing.

Peppered with English folk songs and tunes, St Paul’s Suite provided a charming and melodious start to the evening’s programme. The rollicking Jig was fast but unhurried, switching meters effortlessly from 6/8 to the extended 9/8 bars and back to 6/8 without so much as batting an eyelid. The Ostinato and Intermezzo were also passionate and energetic, bordering on frenzied, yet not compromising on the clarity of notes and phrases. The Dargason, the finale and a 16th century English folk dance tune, was an 8-bar melody that went round in circles. Holst had cleverly woven Greensleeves inside this dance tune, evoking the feeling of freedom, of flying (on a broomstick or dragon as in Harry Potter) over sprawling green fields dotted with sheep..

The D Minor Piano Concerto K466 by Mozart which followed was just as thrilling. The pre-concert talk by Dr Clive McClelland covered the use of Ombra (Italian for “shadow” but used here in the context of “scary music”) in music before and during Mozart’s time. The key of D minor in the music of Mozart was highlighted, as with particular areas in the music that were “scary”. “Scary” took on a different definition, when Swiss-Italian pianist Francesco Piemontesi tackled the third movement at such a breakneck speed that most of the audience were scared and slightly nervous that he would trip and fall. His control was exceptional, as with the fine accompaniment from the orchestra. His cadenzas were rather Beethovenian, making use of trills and scales covering the entire range of the piano. Piemontesi took three curtain calls, and emerged again to give a dazzling display of Feux d’artifice (Fireworks), the last from Debussy’s second book of preludes.

The highlight of the evening, however, was the little piece that preceded the Haydn symphony – Sospiri by Elgar. His use of the seventh and the characteristically “English” harmonies, coupled with the shimmering of the strings expresses the deepest pleading and yearning. Played by a such a great orchestra, this was a truly affecting and heart-achingly beautiful piece of music.

As C walked me back we passed by many drunkards and a few clubs blasting loud music. The altered state from the sublime music at the concert hall was instantly shattered. I suppose it is all quite revoltingly fascinating in a weird way. Hello, reality ):

(As I type this, there’s an amateur choir of people in drunken stupor half-singing and half-shouting God Save the Queen outside my window.. I’m rather amused and mildly irritated)

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