Symphony No.10 Adagio
Piano Concerto No.17 in G, K453
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.73
Susan Tomes (piano)
London Philharmonic Youth Orchestra
Reviewed by: Ying Chang
Reviewed: 14 December, 2002
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
It is painful to write adversely about the LPO’s clearly admirable initiative in having a youth orchestra, and about any classical concert as well supported as this one. Classical music is not in so healthy a state, so it may be considered not right to carp at opportunities for young people to perform or listen. The SBC is host virtually every night to the finest orchestras. It is therefore immensely difficult to listen without comparing to concert memories of the very highest standards.
The LPYO fell between the stools of freshness and experience. Its players seemed preoccupied with the accuracy and line of each part at the expense of the coherence of the whole. We are used to the quality of the National Youth Orchestra. I have heard similar from Cambridge University’s Chamber Orchestra, playing in comparable circumstances with distinguished soloist-directors like Tamás Vásáry and Cristina Ortiz. Where natural talent and musicality sustain these other orchestras, it was as if the advanced students of the LPYO were self-conscious about professional issues of accuracy and intonation. Although such preoccupation did not necessarily give more precision, it certainly detracted from the flow and subtlety of the symphonic works.
Takuo Yuasa’s conducting was always supportive and sensitive to his players – he has a good reputation as a specialist conductor of youth orchestras as well as an international career. His view of Mahler’s opening Adagio from the unfinished Tenth was light and airy, more Wunderhorn than Götterdämmerung. Yuasa’s Brahms was sensitive and took full advantage of the symphony’s lyrical possibilities. The ensemble was notable for beautiful if sometimes over-projected individual contributions than the sense that the musicians were truly listening to one another.
This was my first opportunity to hear Susan Tomes other than as the eminent chamber musician she is. She displayed the same virtues apparent in her Florestan Trio performances – a lightning wit, and a plain, ego-less style reminiscent of Clara Haskil. She is used, however, to playing off colleagues of equally strong personalities. At times, particularly in the first movement, it did not sit well with her to have to hold together the musical texture. In solo passages and cadenzas of the first two movements, she displayed the neatness and Mozartian singing line that characterise her performance. There was, however, little suggestion of the orchestra engaging with her. The last movement, with its operatic, literally chirpy variations – the theme is possibly based on the song of Mozart’s pet starling – was more successful. There was a real sense of playfulness, joyful music-making in the interaction between soloist and orchestra.