The Bridgewater Hall’s new Echoes of a Mountain Song series is subtitled “the music and poetry of northern landscapes” but its focus is somewhat unclear. The poetry and folk music elements concentrate on the landscapes of Northern England but some of the other musical events range more widely – as was the case with this evening’s concert with its Scottish second half. The series concludes in April on the anniversary of the mass trespass on Kinder Scout in the Peak District in 1932 which ultimately led to greater access to the public to much of the English countryside. It was therefore fitting that the first piece in the Manchester Camerata’s opening concert of the series was Kinder Scout, a “sketch for orchestra” by Patrick Hadley. This little known composer produced a small number of works which are rarely performed. He had family connections in Derbyshire and frequently visited the area. Kinder Scout was first performed in 1922 and portrays the bleak moors in a sound world that is related to that of the more familiar English composers featured in the remainder of the first half of the concert. The orchestral piano gave a distinctive feel to this work as did the contrast in places between the lively woodwind and the smooth, quiet strings. It would be good to hear this piece again.

Jennifer Pike © Eric Richmond
Jennifer Pike
© Eric Richmond
The Camerata and Gábor Takács-Nagy were then joined by violinist Jennifer Pike for Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, soaring sweetly above the orchestra in this beautiful evocation of an English landscape. The Camerata’s pianissimi were atmospheric and Ms Pike’s playing stunning in a near ideal performance.

Next came another English favourite... but does it really belong in an exploration of Northern landscapes? Delius was born in Bradford and Yorkshire was important to him, but he spent much of his life in France and The Walk to the Paradise Garden is an interlude from his opera A Village Romeo and Juliet which is set in Switzerland. Beautifully shaped woodwind solos and ecstatic string climaxes depicted the feelings of the opera’s tragic hero and heroine rather than the surroundings in which they find themselves.

In the second half, we heard Mendelssohn’s Symphony no. 3 in A minor known as the Scottish. The works of Sir Walter Scott were very influential in Germany and across Europe at the beginning of the 19th century and the rugged mountains and ruined castles of the Highlands provided ideal images for the Romantic movement. In accordance with the spirit of the times, Mendelssohn toured Scotland in 1829 and sketched out a melody that would become the opening of the Scottish Symphony, but he only returned to it some 13 years later. 

Takács-Nagy directed a controlled and thoughtful performance. The first movement was taken at a brisk pace which ensured that there was no loss of impetus in the quieter, calmer sections. The cheerful clarinet melody at the beginning of the second movement and the ensuing wind themes combined with the strings to give just the right balance. The hints of traditional Scottish music were treated with a delicacy which contrasted with the slower and more serious Adagio. The finale returned to a more heroic atmosphere and the glorious surges of sound from the full orchestra in last few minutes brought the work to a rousing conclusion. Throughout the performance we were reminded that Mendelssohn was a master of orchestration and Takács-Nagy and the Camerata did him justice. Finally we had an unexpected and very enjoyable encore from conductor and orchestra: an arrangement by Daniel Schnyder of the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil.

Musically this was a fine concert. However, the context of the Echoes of a Mountain Song raised some expectations which were not met. Callum Armstrong’s performances on the Scottish small-pipes in the foyer of the Bridgewater Hall before and after the concert and in the interval complemented the Mendelssohn nicely but one further element of the concert should have enhanced the music but failed to do so.  Actor Will Ash introduced the Hadley, the Vaughan Williams and the Mendelssohn and read substantial excerpts from George Meredith’s The Lark Ascending and Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake. Unfortunately the amplification of his voice was incorrectly set, making him difficult to follow. Moreover, he read as if from a script in which he was not interested, and mispronounced some names, including the conductor’s. What a contrast with Gábor’s enthusiastic introduction of the Delius!

***11