Review by Robert Beale

The Bridgewater Hall mustered a small but very enthusiastic audience to welcome Concerto Budapest and its chief conductor and artistic director, András Keller, along with Angela Hewitt, the peerless pianist who is always a draw in her own right.

The programme offered to Manchester (slightly different from other venues so far on the tour) had two pieces full of folksong and dance and two mainstream classical ones.

Top of the menu was Kodály’s Dances of Galánta – played for the first time on the tour but no doubt bread-and-butter to these musicians back home. Their string tone is rightly something to be proud of, and the eight celli made a superb start to the piece (the following string playing wasn’t as clean and precise as the Bridgewater Hall acoustic really needs, but it takes a little time to adjust to it – there’s an awful lot of side-to-side resonance in this hall). The music has something of the sound of traditional ‘gypsy’ bands in it, and by the fast bit near the end there were grins all round – they were enjoying doing it.

Enescu’s Romanian Rhapsody no. 1, played after the interval, had much of the same feel to it (and gave the percussionists of the orchestra something to do: their two harps and a most self-effacing pianissimo triangle made their delicate contribution).

But before that there was Angela Hewitt. You could hardly get more mainstream than Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 23 in A major (K488), and she plays it with good old-fashioned well-pedalled smoothness and grace. The orchestra, too, was suavity personified, and its principal bassoon had his best vibrato to show off, along with the principal oboe’s most expressive style, in the second and final movements.

Angela Hewitt’s playing is beautifully proportioned and finely calculated. Mozart’s (his own) first movement cadenza brought a flash of drama to the narrative … and I loved the way (being a director-from-the-keyboard herself on other occasions) she conducted the players back into action herself at the recapitulation. She played the gloriously elegiac central Adagio una corda but with some surprise emphases to stimulate the imagination.

To remind us of her expertise in interpreting baroque keyboard music for the modern piano, she returned with an encore in the shape of a Scarlatti sonata.

Last there was Beethoven’s Fifth. Strings were slightly reduced for this (they had been cut right down for Mozart), but there were modern timpani. There was plenty of energetic articulation in the opening movement, and intriguing crescendos on held notes from the wind players. The speeds of the remainder were mainly brisk, though sometimes variable in a nicely Romantic way, and the horns and trumpets (three of the latter, with shared duties on the top line, to keep their sound brightly dominating everything else) made a powerful contribution.

via: Manchester Classical Music