Inspired youthful enthusiasm creates special evening

National Youth Orchestra / Bychkov, Snape Proms, Snape Maltings, August 5

The National Youth Orchestra is one of Britain’s ‘institutions’ even if the word is a poor descriptor of its nature and appeal. Unlike many whose attraction lies in their longevity and attachment to tradition, the appeal of the NYO is rooted in its energy and dynamism, its constantly changing and ambitious membership keeping musical standards at the highest levels.

Two days prior to their appearance in the BBC Proms the orchestra appeared at Snape with the same programme of Dukas, Julian Anderson and Berlioz and well over a hundred performers packed the stage of the Maltings.

The very familiarity of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice requires something extra in playing or direction if a performance is to rise above the merely acceptable and enjoyable. Conductor and orchestra delivered an outstanding one; the precision and unanimity of the players, the beautifully balanced wind harmonies at the start and the crisp certainty of the bassoon solo launched the work securely on the path to its chaotic climax and terse conclusion.

Julian Anderson’s Fantasias was written for and first performed by the Cleveland Orchestra in 2009. Of its five movements the third is probably the most interesting, its rich scoring suggestive of a tropical forest and some unusual instrumental effects cleverly suggesting threatening animals. Elsewhere, however, there was insufficient variety and melodic interest and too often a mere cacophony of sound. Despite the composer’s programme notes and the energetic commitment and fine playing of the orchestra, some sense of bemusement in the audience was evident at the end.

What better choice could there be for musicians of this age than Berlioz’s brilliant and unique work of the peaks and troughs of love and art? Semyon Bychkov drew superbly refined playing from the muted strings at the beginning and the players threw themselves into Berlioz’s intoxicated world as the movement unfolded with an �lan that the composer himself would have appreciated. The Waltz lacked a degree of nervous tension at the appearance of the id�e fixe but the opening of the third movement witnessed splendid contributions from cor anglais and oboe and the sense of brooding in open spaces was acutely conveyed. The March to the Scaffold could, perhaps, have had a little more of the savage and grotesque about it but there was no shortage of such qualities in the finale where Bychkov marshalled his exuberant forces with exemplary control to a blazing conclusion. Full marks to the clarinets in particular as they threw caution to the winds.

That the pieces were excellently performed and conducted almost goes without saying. What really struck and inspired me was the sheer energy and enthusiasm of so many of the players, particularly those on display at the front of the string sections. Playing Berlioz is one of the best things you can do.

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Gareth Jones

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