Manchester Collective/Mahan Esfahani review – high energy Proms debut

Royal Albert Hall, London
The harpsichordist’s playing was punchy and brilliant, but too much of this wide-ranging programme featured music that felt insubstantial

In a normal year, the Manchester Collective would probably have found themselves making their Proms debut in one of the late-night slots, where the more quirky programmes are too often tucked away. But here they were the main event at the Royal Albert Hall, a tremendous achievement for a group only founded five years ago.

Perhaps it was because of the high-profile slot that the programme seemed to try awfully hard to have as wide an appeal as possible. Manic, propulsive energy was the shared characteristic of too much of the music, from the Harpsichord Concerto by Henryk Górecki with which the concert began, to the vapid piece by Wojciech Kilar, Orawa, which was added as an encore.

Mahan Esfahani was the extrovert soloist in the Górecki, and he returned later to play the Jazz Harpsichord Concerto by Joseph Horovitz, with a bass and a drum kit joining him in an unlikely jazz trio. His playing was as punchy and brilliant as ever, but that virtuosity seemed rather squandered on such undeniably slick but trivial music.

Manchester Collective at the BBC Proms
The main event ... Manchester Collective at the BBC Proms. Photograph: Chris Christodoulou

Dobrinka Tabakova’s Suite in Old Style, The Court Jester Amareu, designed as a homage to Rameau but more often sounding like an unlikely hybrid between Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances and Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite, had no more substance either, apart from providing a great showcase for the outstanding solo playing of the collective’s violist, Ruth Gibson.

The programme, though, was certainly diverse. Julius Eastman’s The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc, composed for 10 cellos but played here in a version for string orchestra, added hardcore 1980s minimalism to the mix, while Edmund Finnis’s The Centre Is Everywhere offered something entirely different – delicate, microtonal string writing woven into drifting clouds of sound, that provided real musical subtlety in an evening otherwise desperately short of it.

• All this season’s Proms are available on BBC Sounds until 11 October.

• Andrew Clements listened to this concert via the live Radio 3 broadcast.


Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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