Nice to see the (Manchester
) on disc. This orchestra has long seemed
undervalued to me. I well remember a
concert (as part of the Hallé
concerts season) many years ago now
featuring a very musical Mozart 41st
and a marvellous Haydn ‘Nelson’ Mass
(the soprano soloist, Wendy Eathorne,
excelled herself on that occasion).
This disc is offered
at super-budget price, yet the presentation
values and engineering proclaim something
more akin to full-price values. Andrew
Keener produces, while Mike Hatch and
Simon Eadon engineer (symphonies Nos.
2 and 5, respectively). Even the booklet
notes come from a scholarly source,
Barry Cooper of the University of Manchester.
The recordings were made at the Bridgewater
Hall, where the Manchester Camerata
holds the title of Chamber Orchestra
in Residence. Douglas Boyd is the orchestra’s
Artistic Director and Principal Conductor.
Much intensely musical
thought and, indeed, preparation, have
gone into these performances. There
is an all-pervading neatness to ensemble
and phrasing that speaks of long rehearsal.
The Second Symphony
has long been the neglected one of the
Nine, so full marks to the Manchester
Camerata and Avie for including it here.
It begins in the best possible fashion,
with punchy tuttis, neat string ornaments
and a tempo that is a well-paced six-in-a-bar.
The Allegro con brio exemplifies the
neatness referred to above, although
it is hard to believe this is a live
performance. It just does not have the
necessary electric charge, emerging
as just that bit workaday. Yet the second
movement (Larghetto) is a thing of beauty.
The tempo is a comfortable three (its
in 3/8) and gentilité is all
here. Technically there is much stylish
playing, from the woodwind and the horns
(the tricky top ‘B’s perfectly managed
- a rare passage, allegedly, that Dennis
Brain lost sleep over!). But for this
to be completely effective, it needs
to stand in contrast to the surrounding
movements, whereas here the Scherzo
is dancing rather than dynamic. Similarly,
the finale is more cheeky-chappie than
determined, exuding much charm (especially
the solo oboe, presumably Rachel Clegg).
The Fifth begins with
some authentic ‘decay’ on the held minim
(not as pronounced as Norrington on
Hänssler, however). In general,
in fact, Boyd is preferable to Norrington.
There is more life to Boyd’s reading
(and at only a fiver Norrington is effectively
wiped out of the running). After the
Second Symphony, no surprise that the
slow movement flows along nicely. Let
that not imply a rushed effect, however.
There is plenty of suave phrasing, contrasting
nicely this time with the very punchy
Scherzo (where double-basses scamper
impishly and violas excel themselves
in agility). What’s more the Finale
emerges entirely naturally out of the
transition, although when it appears
it is once more neat rather than scruff-of-the-neck
stuff. The repeat is in place, and the
brief snapshot of the third movement
is perfectly integrated.
This bodes very well
indeed, if there are to be more discs
from this orchestra on this label.