By Robert Beale
From Manchester Evening News - 7/ 5/2007
The Manchester cello festival, founded by Ralph Kirshbaum over 20 years ago, has become an extraordinary gathering, not only of young enthusiasts (and there many of them) but also of the world’s great virtuosi. Indeed it seems as if hardly any these days dare not be present. And the death of Mstislav Rostropovich – who was to have been specially celebrated at the festival, but whose non-appearance was known of several weeks ago (he died just days before) – seemed to give proceedings a special atmosphere, as players sought to emulate the passion, dedication and virtuosity of that great cellist and musician.
It was also a celebration of British cello music, with every work written for the instrument by Benjamin Britten included, and many others. Evening concerts began on Wednesday, with the BBC Philharmonic conducted by Garry Walker, and opening with Tippett’s triple concerto for violin (Mihaela Martin), viola (Nobuko Imai) and cello (Frans Helmerson). Their playing was noble and sumptuously lyrical. The Philharmonic also played at the Bridgewater Hall on Saturday, in the all-British programme (Bridge, Britten, Elgar and Walton), performed by Colin Carr, Natalia Gutman, Ralph Kirshbaum and Yo-Yo Ma. On Thursday, Manchester Camerata, under Douglas Boyd, accompanied Thomas Demenga and Ivan Monighetti in Haydn’s concertos, and Raphael Wallfisch played Rubbra’s dark and disturbing Soliloquy of 1944.
There was a myriad of masterclasses, recitals and quintet performances also – a quite dizzying schedule of attractions.
But standing out within it all was a series of British and world premieres. On Wednesday, Colin Matthews’ Berceuse For Dresden was given its UK premiere by Raphael Wallfisch, with the BBC Philharmonic. If it has a weak spot, it is pitting the solo instrument against gorgeously rich textures in the orchestra (broadcast performance will surely overcome it) – but what magic those textures have, exploring the sound of bells and their overtones, being based on the bells of the Frauenkirche. It is a moving and masterfully written meditation on wartime pain. It was followed by Anatolijus Senderovas’ Concerto In Do, played by David Geringas (UK premiere). Although this is, we are told, big in Lithuania, it seemed a peculiarly vivid example of the kind of “accessibility” that can be created by a very slow rate of harmonic change. Thursday’s concert saw the Camerata’s role as backdrop to Roberto Molinelli’s Twin Legends – its UK premiere given by Enrico Dindo. Cellists will be overjoyed they have a genuinely jazzy piece at last, but I felt in its lyrical interlude there was not much that Paul McCartney could not have written with a little help from Carl Davis. Edward Gregson’s A Song For Chris concerto (world premiere, Li-Wei the soloist), however, was concise, varied, personal and yet universal in its journey from agony to exaltation. It is a very fine work, exploring cello technique (for instance in its use of pizzicato chords), and at the end deeply felt and exceptionally powerful.
Friday’s marathon gala recital brought us two superstars about to be honoured by the festival. Natalia Gutman gave an unforgettable performance of Britten’s first Cello Suite – her virtuosity and musicality conveying more, perhaps, than anyone else the sense of Slava’s presence – and Yo-Yo Ma had fun (with Kathryn Stott, piano) playing Gismonti and Piazolla. Mischa Maisky (with Lily Maisky, piano) brought his singing tone to three Rachmaninoff arrangements (one the ubiquitous Vocalise), and then we had our other world premiere: A Little Trowie Music, for six cellos, by Peter Maxwell Davies. Inspired by a legend of troll-like beasties, it was, he says, meant to sound like their underground dance band. The six young players gave it their all in its mischievous, melodic and jolly moods.