Sunday 26 March 2023

The latest in Manchester Camerata's Mozart, Made in Manchester series featured a lovely creative dialogue between Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Gábor Takács-Nagy and the players

Mozart, Made in Manchester - Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Gábor Takács-Nagy, Manchester Camerata - The Stoller Hall (Photo Manchester Camerata)
Mozart, Made in Manchester - Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Gábor Takács-Nagy, Manchester Camerata - The Stoller Hall (Photo Manchester Camerata)

Mozart: Overture to Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Piano Concertos Nos. 11 in F major, 12 in A major & 13 in C major; Jean-Efflam Bavouzet, Manchester Camerata, Gábor Takács-Nagy; The Stoller Hall
Reviewed 25 March 2023

The latest Mozart, Made in Manchester with three concertos from the 1780s, in performances full of enjoyment, energy and real sense of presence

The Manchester Camerata, artistic director Gábor Takács-Nagy and pianist Jean-Efflam Bavouzet,took us to 1780s Vienna on Saturday 25 March 2023. As part of their ongoing Mozart, Made in Manchester series (performing and recording all of Mozart's piano concertos), at The Stoller Hall, we heard the overture to Mozart's opera Die Entführung aus dem Serail and Mozart's Piano Concertos Nos. 11 in F major, 12 in A major & 13 in C major.

Mozart had left the service of the Archbishop of Salzburg (managing to be creatively dismissed) in 1781, settling in Vienna and remaining freelance for the rest of his career. He put on his first season of subscription concerts in Vienna in 1782-82 and for these he wrote three concertos, now numbered nos. 11, 12 and 13. Relatively compact works, the wind parts are comparatively limited, and Mozart advertised the concertos as being available in chamber versions with just string accompaniment, but in the right hands the wind has a real part to play. 

Writing for himself, rather than a patron, the works are compact, yes, but in them Mozart is working out the balances between soloist and orchestra, using his creative imagination to develop the concerto form.

We began with the overture, which dates from the same period; tight and crisp playing, full of nervous energy and with strong contrasts, and yes, that Turkish percussion. The contrasting theme was more measured, strong yet tender, before the faster elements returned. A performance full of vital music making, the harbinger of a special evening.

For the concerto performances, the percussion and extra wind players left the platform, but the orchestra was joined by four students from Chetham's School of Music who have been working with Gábor Takács-Nagy and the orchestra on the programme.

No. 11 opened with an orchestral prelude full of drama, a world akin to that of the overture. Bavouzet made the piano's first entry both strong and elegant, a response to the orchestra's original proposition. This sense of dialogue, often as something like call and response, is key to the concertos. Each handles it differently, but throughout the evening you sensed Bavouzet's ongoing discussion with the orchestra. The movement developed with the music becoming restless, yet still elegant; Bavouzet always gave the solo part an inner strength and the orchestra echoed this sense of purpose, but that did not preclude skittish moments. The second movement began with strings and wind in an elegantly sung melody, and Bavouzet's piano response echoed the instrument's lovely phrasing and the movement became an expressive, sometimes tender discussion. There was a strong dance flavour to the third movement, with a solo part full of contrast and expressive detail, and again a sensitivity of phrasing common to both soloist and orchestra. Yet, there were interruptions too, which gave an almost Beethoven-like feel to the material.

Piano Concerto No. 12 began elegantly, yet the orchestral playing was still vital and Bavouzet's piano had a certain insouciance about it, though at times the solo part became quite pointed with some strong drama in the development section. The slow movement was full of playfulness and simplicity, yet strong on expressive detail, and an inner strength to the cadenza. The third movement began crisp and tight, again we had operatic expectations and Bavouzet did not disappoint with a solo part full of character. There was wit, but also some surprisingly dramatic moments.

For Piano Concerto No. 13, we acquired trumpets and timpani, and Takács-Nagy quoted from a letter to his father where Mozart said they found out on the day of the concert that Emperor Joseph II was coming, so Mozart had hastily arranged trumpet and timpani parts. These added to what must already have been a grand opening to the concerto. The performance brought out the contrast between this grandeur and the more intimate moments. There was formal drama, but Bavouzet also got the chance to show off and even his scale passages had a wonderful vibrancy. The slow movement featured rich wind playing and elegant phrasing, with the piano responding with a combination of strength and poetry. For a slow movement, this was remarkably strong and complex music, with a substantial and stylish cadenza. We ended with another strong dance, this time a rondo, and the piano made the initial proposition with the orchestra responding. The subsequent piano responses had a dramatic freedom to them that was almost rhapsodic, we felt Mozart's creative freedom here. A move to the minor was tender with further episodes introducing drama into the rondo, and the work finished almost in mid-air, wit and energy to the last.

Throughout the evening we had enjoyed a sense of the really vital music-making from all, and the creative dialogue between Bavouzet, Takács-Nagy and the players. But above all it was the enjoyment, energy and real sense of presence they brought to the music.

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