The Manchester Camerata were joined by Jonian Ilias Kadesha as soloist and director for a concert that looked intriguing on paper and which proved to be an utter joy in practice. We had two favourite masterpieces of Central European classicism, two quirky Hungarian pieces from the 20th century and, to begin with, what is surely the wackiest piece of music from the 17th century.

Jonian Ilias Kadesha
© Kaupo Kikkas

Biber’s Battalia is a series of short pieces for strings and continuo relating to war but as represented at the time of Carnival. Decorous and often beautiful melodies are undermined by techniques that seem surprisingly modern: foot stamping, col legno playing and at one stage the double bass inserted a sheet of paper behind his strings to create a side-drum effect. There was effective use of what some three centuries later would come to be known as “Bartók pizzicato”. Above all in the remarkable second movement several folksongs are played at the same time creating a glorious cacophony prefiguring Charles Ives. It was great fun. I found myself laughing out loud. But the biggest subversion came at the end: the conclusion was a serious lament.

Next we had Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles for wind quintet with its remarkable harmonies and captivating rhythms moving rapidly from one mood to another. The ears were constantly challenged and delighted in this entertaining work. The wind principals from the orchestra brought out the humour of the piece as their string-playing colleagues had done in the Biber.

Then after two pieces suffused with comedy, we had one which was no less joyful but in a more conventional manner. This was Mozart’s Violin Concerto no. 3 in G major with Kadesha taking centre stage as both soloist and conductor. His playing was radiantly expressive and it was matched by the orchestra. In the calm second movement, Kadesha’s sound was sweet and intense; in the finale he captured the humour again. The cadenzas gave him the opportunity to show his virtuoso skills and he had the audience hanging on every note.

After the interval, Kadesha was also the soloist in Bartók’s Rhapsody no. 1 in an arrangement for solo violin and strings. This gave him another chance to take the limelight and also showed off the talents of the Camerata strings. It was an exhilarating piece full of rhythmic energy and the exotic sounds of Hungarian folk music. It was played with total commitment from all; it was hard to believe that this was originally a piece for piano and violin.

And finally, Haydn’s “Farewell” Symphony, one of his best-loved and most performed works. Kadesha, again directing from the violin, elicited some very fine playing. The first movement had an intensity as the tension built up that was startling, like the gripping telling of an exciting story. The unhurried, measured tread of the second movement contrasted with the energy of the first. After the poised Minuet, the finale started exuberantly. Then, in line with the well-known story of the first performance, the players gradually started to leave the stage until only two (Kadesha and a colleague) were left, playing a line that disappeared into nothingness.

Kadesha had replaced the much more famous violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja at short notice and did a fantastic job. He appeared to be thoroughly enjoying himself throughout the concert and so did the rest of the players and this shone through in the music-making. He seemed to have a great rapport with the players. The audience really responded to their chemistry. I hope we will have the opportunity to hear Kadesha and the Camerata together again soon.