CBSO Youth Orchestra


Symphony Hall *****

Sunday's triumphant return to Symphony Hall by the CBSO Youth Orchestra after such a long locked-down exile was heartening for so many reasons. Here were well over a hundred young musicians (obviously the peak of a pyramid of so many others spreading below) playing with a freshness and enthusiasm not always displayed by many professional ensembles, a joy of performing in one of the world's great concert-halls, and well-drilled onstage discipline (though the getting offstage uncertainties need working on).
Add to the talent of these youngsters the sectional coaching expertise of players from the parent CBSO and the authoritative conducting of Michael Seal, who knows orchestral playing from a long-experience inside, and you have an alchemy which cannot go wrong. And didn't that turn into gold here!
Dani Howard's Argentum was a fizzing programme-opener, teeming textures punctuated by heavy brass underlinings, reminding a little of John Adams-style minimalism, and given with a zip and alertness brilliantly drawn by Seal from these youthful players.
Then came a rarity, though I can only guess that it is because of the size of the orchestra required, Britten's Diversions for Piano and Orchestra, and that magnitude was certainly here. It gave us the opportunity within little over a week to hear another work composed for the left-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein, and I suspect Britten knew the preceding Ravel concerto composed for him, as there are one or two reminders.
Nicholas McCarthy was the engaging soloist, swooping between the registers, chords down in the bass equally weighted with answering ones high in the treble, and with amazing downward scalic cascades, Britten's cheek in composing a scintillating tarantella just for one hand was given a virtual two-fingered response, and previous movements (so much in the mould of the various Variations Britten was composing around that time) brought forward from the orchestra so much to enjoy. The deep feeling from absolutely all in the penultimate adagio displayed a maturity from these young players well beyond their years.
We concluded with the most exciting Shostakovitch Tenth Symphony I have ever heard. String sound was rich and eloquent, wind solos were all too wonderful to single out, brass were both noble and arresting, and percussion were sensitive as well as spectacular.
So much concentration is required during the lengthily sustained paragraphs of this demanding work, and Michael Seal's clear and spacious baton secured all of that, then pouncing upon the venom and ultimate glee of the composer's sense of relief at the death of his life-long oppressor, Josef Stalin.
Christopher Morley

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