Manchester Collective. Lakeside, Nottingham. October 27 2022. 4****. William Ruff


Manchester Collective: Arcadiana

Djanogly Recital Hall, Lakeside, Nottingham

October 27 2022


Review: William Ruff


A celebration of old and new in a stimulating Manchester Collective programme

No two Manchester Collective concerts are remotely the same: neither in terms of repertoire or of performers.  On Thursday night at Lakeside they brought a string sextet with them (2 each of violins, violas and cellos) to perform works by contemporary composers as well as a 19th century classic.

I don’t know of a more viscerally exciting piece written for string sextet that 180 beats per minute by Jörg Wildmann, a composer who currently stands as the third most-played contemporary classical composer in the world (after Arvo Pärt and John Williams).  It’s a youthful piece, written when he was barely 20 and a 10-minute burst of pure rhythm.  If anyone still thinks that chamber music is prim and sedate, they need to hear 180 beats and its constant changing of bar length and unpredictable metrical patterns.  This Manchester Collective performance was irresistible and it was hard to sit still amid sound which made you want to clap or shout.  Just as the urge to do just that became almost unbearable, the six players did indeed shout (yes, it’s in the score!), thus releasing some of the tension before the work came to a spectacular conclusion.

Thomas Adès’ string quartet Arcadiana creates an utterly different sound-world, consisting of a series of sonic pictures.  There are seven short movements, mostly evoking picturesque, idealised scenes from an old world seen through modern eyes.  The odd-numbered sections are all aquatic in some way, with each picture uniquely and ingeniously coloured.  For instance, in the opening movement the viola plays the role of a gondolier propelling his vessel through moonlit water evoked by the other instruments.  The tango, which lies at the heart of the piece, alludes to Poussin’s paintings depicting shepherds in a classical landscape.  The instruments have to create a wide range of light/dark effects as well as of water that flows, splashes and cascades.  Adès demands the near-impossible from his performers, but the Manchester quartet were completely inside the music’s distinctive idiom, creating a kaleidoscope of vividly characterful, sharply etched scenes. 

The concert ended with Brahms’ Sextet no. 2, a particularly genial, sunny work, full of melody and even incorporating a waltz theme in its first movement.  In fact, this waltz contains a hidden code.  Brahms felt remorse at the way he had treated his girlfriend Agathe, so he tenderly embedded notes spelling out her name just after the waltz appears.  The Manchester Collective captured the mood of the Scherzo as it wavers between melancholy and gentle playfulness.  And they also found plenty of variety in the Adagio in which a slow, sad melody is followed by a subtly inventive set of variations.  The finale revealed Brahms in his sunniest mood as the work reached a rousingly energetic conclusion.  And it brought another stimulating Manchester Collective concert to an end.

Manchester Collective

Max Baillie (guest director), violin

Donald Grant, violin

Alex Mitchell, viola

Carol Ella, viola

Marie Bitlloch, cello

Hannah Roberts, cello

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