Barbican Young Orchestra/Edward Gardner – Finlandia and Firebird – Michael Petrov plays Walton’s Cello Concerto

Finlandia, Op.26
Cello Concerto
The Firebird [1919 Suite]

Michael Petrov (cello)

Barbican Young Orchestra
Edward Gardner

Reviewed by: Alan Sanders

Reviewed: 22 June, 2014
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Edward Gardner. Photograph: © Benjamin EalovegaThe Barbican Young Orchestra was founded by Sir Colin Davis and Sir Nicholas Kenyon in 2008. Its members come from the London area and are selected by audition. The age range is from nine to sixteen, and some of the youngsters have never played in an orchestra before. Following the death of Sir Colin, Edward Gardner has taken over the conductorship for 2014. There were eight rehearsals for this concert. As in other youth orchestras, girls vastly outnumber boys in the BYO’s ranks. Where are the young male players of the future?

Nobody should realistically have expected professional standards from such a youthful band, and it was perhaps nervousness that caused a rather shaky start to Finlandia, with woolly ensemble and doubtful intonation in the brass section. But it was at once clear that Gardner was making no allowances for his players’ inexperience, for he drove them hard in a performance that if it lacked finesse had lots of energy and spirit.

Walton’s Cello Concerto was a challenging prospect for the orchestra, and here the standard of playing improved markedly, especially in the work’s middle movement, with its rapid changes of rhythm and accent. The soloist, Bulgarian-born Michael Petrov, has studied at the Guildhall School since 2009, and is already establishing an international career. He gave a performance that was confidently assertive, technically impressive, and very responsive to the changing moods of the Concerto.

The concert had no interval, so Gardner and the BYO plunged straightaway into the Stravinsky. Here some of the wind players were given the chance to shine, notably an accident-free first horn and oboe and flute soloists who phrased very nicely and had good tone quality. When given the opportunity the strings showed good intonation and ensemble as well as a warm sound. Again, Gardner made no concessions. He demanded and secured a whip-crack start to the ‘Infernal Dance’ and finished the evening with a rousing account of the final section. With his clear technique and ability to energise young players he was an ideal conductor for this occasion.

What an experience it must have been for those children who had never played in an orchestra before. One hopes that Edward Gardner will continue his work with the Barbican Young Orchestra.

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