The Manchester Collective continue to programme their seasons in a manner that seems remarkably prescient. This evening as inflation rises, industrial unrest unfurls, ice caps melt and war bleeds ever closer to home, they perform a set of ethereal music for voice and string orchestra declaring that ‘in a volatile world, sometimes you just need a good tune to hang on to’. There are many ‘good tunes’, enhanced by the atmospheric backdrop of Hallé St Peter’s, in this final offering of the season from the Collective. Manchester Collective concerts are always a little different, devoid of the pomp associated with classical music their shows feel democratic, and collaborative. Audience and performers meet in the space between the music – even when over exuberant attendees invade this space with premature applause! This evening the experience is even more immersive as audience members are encouraged to break from the confines of the traditional organised rows of seats to perch on the perimeter. The stage lift is broken so the performers are on the same level as the audience. It is perhaps wishful thinking, but it feels at points like the evocative resonances and vibrations of the music can be felt through the floor that we are sharing.
The evening opens with Olli Mustonen’s ‘Nonet No. 2’, a zippy yet spacious piece. The music is full of life, bounce and vigour, seeming to elicit a collective sigh from the audience as they are absorbed by the music and the burgeoning hope of Mustonen’s work. The piece manages to feel incredibly contemporary whilst drawing on the legacy of Mendelssohn, Beethoven, Schubert and, in its more strident dissonances, Bartok. Next is the world premiere of Edmund Finnis’ ‘Out of the Dawn’s Mind’. Here again breath is noticeable as the Collective become a fluid organism supporting Finnis’ setting of Alice Oswald’s poems. Soprano and long-time Collective collaborator Ruby Hughes tackles the difficult vocal line, embracing Finnis’ dexterous treatment of Oswald’s fragile poetry. Hughes’ skill is in achieving a wonderful blend with the surrounding strings, applying vibrato sparingly and grappling with the extreme dynamic variations of the repertoire.
The second half of the evening opens with Barbara Strozzi – the only female composer in 17th Century Italy to publish her own work. Tonight, Hughes and the Collective breathe life into Strozzi’s ‘Che si può fare’ a melancholic offering that musicalizes the poetry of Aurelio Aureli to evoke heartache and despair. This is a piece that relishes in the richness of grief, exploring the wonderful textural potential of the string orchestra alongside the rich purity of Hughes’ soaring soprano. The evening’s final offering is Benjamin Britten’s ‘Les Illuminations’ a desperately beautiful work that is equally matched by Rimbaud’s evocative poetry. There is so much going on in this song-cycle – Hughes tells the audience that it brings to mind a Bosch painting – with the performers embracing its challenges with panache. If Mustonen provided release Britten and Rimbaud reintroduce tension. Our lives as we know them may hang by a thread but here immersed in the impressive performance of the Manchester Collective, we can turn to art for some of the answers.
Reviewer: Clare Chandler
Reviewed: 23rd June 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★