CBSO Youth Orchestra review


Royal Birmingham Conservatoire ****
You can always be assured of quality with the CBSO Youth Orchestra, expertly coached by some of the country's finest professional orchestral musicians, and performing under great conductors. And the CBSO Youth Orchestra Academy brings us the whittled-down crème de la crème, under the shrewd, understanding and joyously expressive baton of Michael Seal, onetime sub-principal violinist in the CBSO and now a giant on the podium in his own right.
Saturday afternoon's concert deserved a bigger audience than we found in the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire's Bradshaw Hall. I guess they were mainly family fans, with no Town Hall or Symphony Hall usual suspects, perhaps daunted at the prospect of making the trek out to Eastside.
"A Fist Full of Fives" was the title of the programme, beginning indeed with Adrian Sutton's busy, eclectic showpiece bearing that name, and scored for the same forces as the somewhat greater work which was to conclude the concert. The young players seemed to be enjoying themselves in a piece which suited the brashness of the acoustic in this uncongenial hall.
Mozart's Violin Concerto no.5 (geddit?) followed, with Irene Duval the soloist. For all her arachnid-like pouncings in front of her music stand, this was an under-projected account, forcing Seal's orchestra to muzzle their tone sensitively. There were many delights in this performance, but this concerto needs more personality from the soloist to make it work.
Things warmed up amazingly in the second half, stoked by the passionate vigour of Nikos Skalkottas' Five Greek Dances, strings digging in joyously, bowing energetically, and finding all the character in this music, which, for me, bests Bartok in a similar vein. We need to hear more Skalkottas.
The final five came with a certain symphony by Beethoven. This was an amazing account of this masterpiece, delivered with such clarity of texture under Seal's expressive beat so trusting of his players. Ensemble was not always perfect (it certainly wouldn't have been when Beethoven conducted its premiere!), but projection of instrumental lines was immediate and gripping (immanent horns, interweaving woodwind, cutting heavy brass – not least the bass trombone – and pungent timpani, never mind the wonderful strings, with nimble double basses in the third movement's trio).
It must have been such a thrill for the youngsters to perform this piece under such an experienced conductor who himself will have played this masterpiece under so many standards of conductor. It would have been even more of a thrill to have been delivering this in Birmingham Town Hall or Symphony Hall.
One piece of advice: someone please coach these youngsters in platform skills, not least how to co-ordinate getting off the platform. Performance coaches are available.
Christopher Morley

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