Christopher Morley reviews the CBSO Youth Orchestra


Symphony Hall ****
The CBSO Youth Orchestra is an elite assembly of young musicians, expertly coached through half-term by players in the parent CBSO, and rehearsed selflessly by Associate Conductor Michael Seal before being handed over to the visiting guest conductor. Programming stretches and inspires these students, and the results have always been stunning. Up until now.
I would be fascinated to learn how the fist half of Sunday afternoon's programme came to be selected. We began with 14-year-old Erich Korngold's lushly orchestrated, a nebulous structure sagging under too much material, and continued with only the third UK performance of the Piano Concerto by Florence Price, written in 1934.
Circumstances surrounding this performance were unfortunate, Jeneba Kanneh-Mason, the announced soloist (and also featured on the programme-book's front cover) was forced to withdraw through injury. Her place was taken at very short notice by Price expert Samantha Ege, who obviously knows the work from memory inside out, performing with great sensitivity and understanding, but whose playing frequently struggled against its overscoring. I doubt more rehearsal-time would have eased this inherent problem.
Price's Concerto is mercifully short, with an opening movement which made me think we had strayed into Chopin's Second with a dash of Grieg. The central andante has more of an indefinably "American" feel, then there is a clumsy link to an obviously Afro-American dance finale, so similar to that of Price's First Symphony broadcast on BBC Radio 3 the other day (they seem to be having a PriceFest).
The CBSOYO played durifully and efficiently under Joshua Weilerstein, but how they deserved some worthier material, say Elgar's In the South Overture and the Gershwin Piano Concerto (see the parallels?)!
It was totally a different CBSOYO in the second half, the one we have to know and admire so much. Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony might be a well-worn old warhorse, but it is so well-loved, and it was thrill to hear these young people tackle it with such freshness and commitment under Weilerstein's balletic, expressive, eloquent direction.
There is strength in every department of this astonishing ensemble, but the magnificent horn section does have to be singled out for rising so nobly to all Tchaikovsky's many demands, with a section leader who rose to every challenge of the slow movement. I was particularly impressed with the tight control of the heavy brass throughout, the maturity of string tone and articulation – oh, everything! It is a long time since I have listened to this fabulous symphony with such excited ears.
Christopher Morley

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