Every time I hear the Manchester Camerata, I leave wishing I heard them more often, and tonight's relatively short programme headed Deutsche Romantik proved no exception. Classical in scale, but thoroughly romantic in outlook, this was a concert which found a lot to say about some well-worn repertoire.

Leticia Moreno © Omar Ayyashi
Leticia Moreno
© Omar Ayyashi

For an orchestra as uncommonly distinctive and enterprising as the Camerata, the programme might have seemed unusually mainstream, but there was a near constant flow of ingenuity and intrigue in Gábor Takács-Nagy's approach to Mendelssohn, Bruch and Schumann. Chief in this regard was the sense of freely borrowing from and blending historically-informed and modern performance practice. Though the chamber-sized orchestra stood for the Schumann symphony and offered sharp, incisive articulation when called upon, they played on modern instruments and with a generous sprinkling of rubato throughout. Some passages, particularly in the overture and outer movements of the symphony, fizzed with the raw energy of a period band, while elsewhere in the concerto the sound was as lusciously warm as could be hoped for.

Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture began with the gentlest sense of slipping into the sea with barely a splash, the strings' repeated figure entirely free of any rough edges but ebbing and flowing with increasing vigour. At its climax, it was edge-of-the-seat tension, the music hurrying into the eye of a fierce storm. There was plenty to appreciate in subtle but effective additions of sudden dynamic changes without threatening to seem overly mannered, and it was a rare privilege to see an orchestra and conductor seeming to enjoy themselves on stage quite so much.

The landscape of Bruch's much loved Violin Concerto no. 1 in G minor was one of large, bold brush-strokes. Launched quickly by the timpanist, the first minutes of the symphony were immediately rich in drama, the soloist's first passage full of subtle tempo pull-backs to the point of evoking music of the conductor's native Hungary. If intonation took a few moments to settle, Leticia Moreno quickly found a sound of focussed intensity and great beauty. This was especially evident in the slow movement, where her playing alongside the nostalgic descending horn theme was deeply stirring. Takács-Nagy masterminded an exciting ascent to the finale, which bubbled along in high spirits. The last pages accelerated even further, permitting a thrilling display of virtuosity from Moreno.

Much was made this week of a newspaper article praising the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment for its apparently unique fondness for breaking barriers between audience and orchestra. Clearly, this is nothing new or unique, but the merits of performers directly addressing the audience were very plain tonight from Takács-Nagy's entertaining, often self-deprecating and always affectionate introductions to the music. For Schumann's Symphony no. 4 in D minor (actually his second symphony) he had the orchestra stand, not rooted to the spot but moving with the music and engaging in admirable amounts of eye contact between each other. This brought immediate liveliness to the crisply skipping dotted rhythms of the first movement, while the slow movement solos for violin and cello were beautifully crafted both individually and within the ensemble. After a vigorous Scherzo in which the strings' short-long rhythms seemed to leap from the page, the finale forged onwards with ever increasing energy.

At 62 minutes in length, this looked a slightly sparse programme on paper, but in the event it proved a perfect length which rightly gave spotlight attention to some popular repertoire in highly original readings.

****1