Symphony Hall ****

What might have appeared a somewhat wan winding-up of the CBSO Youth Orchestra’s year (a last-minute change of venue, an audience straggling across the stalls of the auditorium) turned out to be a fizzer of a concert, the hand-picked Academy delivering a Scottish-themed programme under its regular conductor Michael Seal.

Seal, freshly-returned from conducting the CBSO’s Bollywood concert at the Royal Albert Hall Proms, presided as coolly and magisterially as ever over his youthful charges (some so youthful that the obligatory chaperone was there, sitting unobtrusively at the side of the stage), baton so clear, left hand eloquent, all gestures carefully marshalling his forces.

Peter Maxwell Davies’ An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise was given with a huge amount of rhythmic gusto, not least from the strings, brass whooping, and with quieter interludes gently delivered by cor anglais solo, and, later, solo strings. The conclusion, bagpiper Robert Jordan solemnly striding through the hall in full regalia, was totally uplifting – and the pipes amazingly in tune with the orchestra!

A total contrast came with Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy (and a revelation, in that its grave opening is so indebted to that of the Mendelssohn symphony which was to follow), Charlie Lovell-Jones’ solo violin so sweetly-toned in its silky lines, gutturally powerful elsewhere, his bowing such a natural extension of himself.

His collaboration with the orchestra was heartwarming, their alertness and responsiveness under Seal’s attentive baton equally so. A mention, too, for the many telling contributions from harpist Isabel Ainsworth, in this enthralling performance.

Finally came Mendelssohn’s Third Symphony, the “Scottish”, vivid in its colours, bringing busy eloquence from the strings, expressive solos from a tight woodwind section, and effective contributions from brass and timpani, these two sections perhaps needing toning down a notch.

This was a dramatic reading under Michael Seal, dynamics well shaded, and it was structurally good that he allowed every movement to follow naturally upon its predecessor. Most memorable was the strings’ wonderful singing of the Adagio’s glorious melody, horns equally responsive. Not so memorable was the dowdy posture of some of the back-desk upper strings. Lift your instruments, be proud of yourselves!

Christopher Morley

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