Symphony Hall ****

Perhaps I am being an over-reacting Jeremiah, but Sunday’s concert from the continually remarkable CBSO Youth Orchestra seemed to indicate a worrying trend, with some string sections seeming depleted in numbers.  If so, this is undoubtedly the result of our philistine government’s money-grubbing downgrading of music provision in our state schools (so often the roll-call of National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain reveals a preponderance of public school students; the CBSOYO does not detail its members’ provenance).

That said, these youngsters performed with amazing precision of ensemble after a week of expert coaching from CBSO professionals, responding with such confidence to the clear, authoritative baton of Ilan Volkov, such an inspirational conductor. This was apparent right from the opening of Berlioz’ Roman Carnival overture, pizzicato of breathtaking unanimity supporting the eloquent cor anglais solo, uncredited in the programme.

Next came a useful object-lesson for these young players in how to approach a bristlingly contemporary score, Bergrun Snaebjornsdottir’s Striations, a CBSO commission receiving its long-delayed world premiere after the pandemic-necessitated postponement of the orchestra’s centenary celebrations. They will have learnt concentration upon the conductor’s road-map signalling as the wispy score unfolded, how to seize upon emerging scraps of melody, and how to take the long view in building intensity. They would not have learnt as much from John Cage’s 4’33”, but the effect upon the listener was very similar.

A far more effective novelty came with the Viola Concerto of the until-recently neglected Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz. With its well-characterised three-movement structure, and a brilliant collaboration between the soloist and a large percussion section within an orchestra from which violas are banished, this richly deserves to be added to the tiny canon of major viola concertos.

Lawrence Power was the persuasive soloist, his tone silky, his attack spiky where required, and his empathy with his young accompanists was heartwarming.

We ended with more Berlioz, the Symphonie Fantastique a perfect vehicle for these ardent youngsters. I’ve never before heard four harps in this piece before (an extravagance only amateur orchestras can perhaps entertain), and we also had four timpani in the Scene in the Fields (the excellent cor anglais as well as offstage oboe again uncredited), and truly scary playing in the March to the Scaffold (though the hero’s decapitation at the guillotine went for nothing) and the Witches’ Sabbath, tubas thundering out the Dies Irae as the music chattered to its manic conclusion.

An afterthought: how does the CBSO Youth Orchestra choose a concertmaster from whatever is the current batch of violinists? Whatever the procedure, Coraleigh Kelly-Edwards has what the job needs in spades: an alert, forward perch on her seat, a bow directing high in the air, and an air of quiet authority which was absolutely perfect for her role.

Christopher Morley


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