Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Grand Palace Hall, Ion Câmpineanu 28, Bucharest, Romania

Guest Reviewer, Ateş Orga

Now in his mid-seventies, a former student of Karajan and Celibidache (minus their mannerisms), Cristian Mandeal has nurtured and shaped the Romanian Youth Orchestra into a pedigree body of young musicians, aged mainly between nineteen and twenty-six. Infinitely experienced, a no-holds-barred attitude central to his interpretations (uncompromisingly so in the edge-of-the-seat third movement of the ‘Pathétique’ and Glinka’s Ruslan and Ludmila encore), he watches over his charges with kindly, paternal care, they in turn responding with filial warmth. Contrasting Paavo Järvi’s mellower take on Enescu’s Second Romanian Rhapsody opening this year’s Festival, Mandeal opted for a sharper stained-glass panorama, suggestions floating by of woodland pipes and reeds, throaty songs, and long-gone men on the march, drums marking time, the will-o’-the-wisp viola dance at the end sparking briefly into midnight flame at the crotchet 160 marking of the score (Järvi, magically, dropped this to 124: on his 1997 BBC Philharmonic recording Rozhdestvensky, hauntingly, was slower still at around 100-04).

The Tchaikovsky – the girls of the orchestra in a flower fest of ballroom dresses waiting their War and Peace moment, the young men gallant and escorting – was edged in Eastern European overtones. Luscious strings, deep basses, threatening brass, all finely blended and balanced. Mandeal, clear beat, memory unfailing, sculpted a firm structure, tensioning the drama to searing climaxes, his overview essentially flowing onwards rather than getting bogged down in histrionics or minutiae. The second subject of the first movement loved and weeped with dignity. A couple of spurious cadential ritardandos in the 5/4 ‘Waltz’ – but a beautifully poised bridge between Trio and reprise. A hellfire ‘March’, the final statement grandly held back. Given a speed riskily faster than Tchaikovsky’s crotchet 152, it faltered at the beginning – but once underway ascended to thrillingly virtuosic heights. The Finale – the packed auditorium shrouded in a pall of Beethovenian “black” B-minor – died its long death, a Romeo and Juliet kettledrum added to the closing bass triplets. Following Glinka, Tchaikovsky continued into the encores. ‘Lensky’s Aria’ from Eugene Onegin, outstandingly played by the principal cello (like first flute and clarinet a player with a future should the wish take him). “Where, where have you gone, the golden days of my spring?” Then the ‘Trepak/Russian Dance’ from Nutcracker, conductor, ensemble and audience on a high.

Originally the concert was to have featured Fazil Say (plus his outlandish cadenza) in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. But a shoulder and neck injury leading to loss of strength forced him to cancel. Alexei Volodin’s Largo and two Chopin encores – first of the Opus 25 Studies, first of the Opus 15 Nocturnes, intimately cosseted in a darkened hall – showed a studied bel canto touch at work. But his outer movements, despite impeccable support from Mandeal, were matter-of-fact, speed and facile fingerwork reducing events to a Czerny-like routine, not always splatter-free.