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It was almost as if the very first note of Haydn’s Symphony No 49, subtitled La passione, had been so carefully gauged for colour, tone, grain, weight and mood, that the essence of this dark work was encapsulated within it.
In a pre-concert talk, Freddy Kempf had elaborated on his experience of directing Beethoven concertos for the first time from the keyboard, something it seems he had long wanted to do, but bided his time until he felt completely ready.
He spoke about his experience of something not far from terror when dealing with the orchestra on its own for the first time. Instead of waiting at the keyboard while the conductor handled the run-up to the piano’s entry, he now had to do this himself. And, as he put it, the orchestra would play in neutral shades, without any particular character, until he showed them exactly what it was that he wanted.
Takács-Nagy, I suspect, is a man who’s never been shy about putting his own views forward. In his early violin-playing days, he was one of the most distinctive of string-quartet leaders. As a conductor, he embraces music with the same kind of fearless initiative: he is emotional, often edgy, never dry or detached. And in minor-key Haydn it’s an approach which ensures that, literally, there’s never a dull moment. On Thursday, the members of the Irish Chamber Orchestra responded to him with an almost super-human alertness.
The evening’s soloist, the Hungarian cellist István Várdai, is clearly a young man to watch. He played two concertos – CPE Bach’s in A, Haydn’s in C – with a rare kind of balletic grace, and took on some of the fastest passages at faster than usual speeds, as if racing on tip-toes, yet making every single note sound with clarity.
The concert was dedicated to the memory of the late John Ruddock, concert promoter extraordinaire, who first brought the Takács Quartet to these shores back in the 1970s. Takács-Nagy and Várdái offered as a single encore one of his favourite pieces, Tchaikovsky’s Andante cantabile, which they delivered with a melting, sighing beauty.