CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy Birmingham Town Hall by David Hart

As the elite corps of the much larger CBSO Youth Orchestra the fifty members who make up the annual Academy are the cream of the crop. Listening to them is not just a question of how well they play – which as seasoned young performers they do with considerable distinction – but their ability to give musically convincing accounts of the works they undertake.
This concert of major Beethoven interleaved with minor Bartók and Kodály satisfied on both levels. Bartók’s five Rumanian Folk Dances were unashamedly rustic in tone and attack, clearly intended by conductor Michael Seal to emphasise the music’s earthy grit.
Which was fine, considering how pithy the dances are.  Kodály’s Summer Evening, though, is a more rambling expansive affair, and Seal developed it into a full-blooded, lush rhapsody (Lucinda Rimmer’s cor anglais solo a sublimely evocative opening) that ended up sounding as sultry as the evening air outside.
However, this generosity of spirit gave the first-movement orchestral exposition of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 rather a hard edge, although when soloist Daniel Lebhardt took over tonal contrasts began to emerge. Lebhardt’s emphasis on the lyrical aspects of the solo part, rather than just resorting to heroic posturing and keyboard pounding (that ‘Emperor’ tag is so misplaced) made for a subtly intelligent and rather winning interpretation, with passage-work that moved beyond decoration to suggest shape and context, and an ability to elevate rhythmic motifs into fully fledged themes.
At the end it was Beethoven’s Second Symphony that provided the Academy’s supreme achievement, a fizzing delight of superb musicianship, crisp articulation and terrific execution under Seal’s energetically empowering direction, often underlined by a wicked sense of humour.
David Hart

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