THE Camerata always sounds at its best in the intimate and lively acoustic of the Royal Northern College of Music concert hall. This performance had two considerable extra buzz factors: Giovanni Guzzo as leader-director-soloist and Gabriela Montero as piano soloist and improviser extraordinaire.
He brought his own genius for style and intensity to the task. It’s what we remember from his time as the orchestra’s regular leader, and even in such a subdued piece of writing as Arvo Pärt’s Fratres (which to my mind is really rather longer than it needs to be) he galvanized the sound as it reached the top of its emotional arch.
Piazzolla’s The Four Season Of Buenos Aires was probably far more on his wavelength, brimming with South American rhythmic life, and with his solos much enhanced by Hannah Robert’s own on the cello. The weather sequence in
is obviously very different from
the kind Vivaldi knew in his Four Seasons, but the echoes of that and other
warhorse pieces are great fun. Buenos Aires
The finale of the concert was Britten’s Variations On A Theme By Frank Bridge. Guzzo had his musicians really enjoying their virtuoso ensemble playing here, with richly burnished violin tone in the Romance, an Aria Italiana which sounded like a very convivial night out in a trattoria, big bravura in the Wiener Walzer, and the quizzical endings of the Funeral March and Fugue And Finale subtly done.
But that was not all this programme had to offer. Gabriela Montero is a phenomenon in her own right. She was the highly accomplished soloist in Mozart’s piano concerto no. 14 in E flat K449, her approach gelling with fellow-Venezuelan Guzzi’s in the bouncy final movement, and a real sense of dialogue with the orchestra strings emerging in the slow movement.
For the first movement cadenza she rattled off a very stylish sequence in free fantasia style, but that was just a foretaste of what came after the concerto. Her trademark spot of asking the audience to suggest tunes from which she can improvise resulted in two instant creations: the first a rhapsodic expansion of the first phrases of McCartney’s Yesterday which began somewhere between Chopin and Rachmaninov with, finally, a touch of Gershwin – still twice as good as some of the stuff peddled by populist Italian pianists which they conceive to be original compositions.
The second was on the Marseillaise. I was afraid someone would suggest that, because it could have brought out mawkishness and shallow emotion, but she began in severely contrapuntal style, worked her way from Mozart to Beethoven and finally, in a thunder of double octaves, gave it an exposition Liszt would have been proud of.