In his opening remarks, Andrew Manze said this concert was going to be unusual. In fact it was totally original, presenting two familiar works in an unconventional framework.
Manze and the MMFO (strings-only on this occasion) opened with a jocular and jaunty rendition of ‘Stick Dance’, the first of Bartók’s six Romanian sequences. Pekka Kuusisto and Knut Erik Sundquist seamlessly interspersed folk-inspired improvisations between each number, simple and plaintive, high-spirited, and lushly romantic, culminating in ‘Fast Dance’, brilliantly played by all; everyone was having fun.
As varied and enjoyable as this was, The Four Seasons was even more remarkable. Manze’s vivacious conducting and Kuusisto’s affectionate/faultless playing were spectacularly effective in conveying images – a gentle brook … a gale – and became even more thrilling when violinist and bassist blended Vivaldi with improvisations and also traditional tunes from their respective countries, Finland and Norway, a foot-stomping hoedown … a jam session (at one point Kuusisto simultaneously whistled and plucked a melody before passing it to Sundquist’s eloquent bow).
This was an intimate gathering of extraordinarily talented and joyful music-makers. Vivaldi's Baroque Violin Concertos sounded particularly ‘modern’: when ‘Winter’ was done, Kuusisto proffered a thumbs-up.