London Schools Symphony Orchestra

Ali Baba – Overture
Piano Concerto No.3 in C, Op.26
Symphony No.1

Aleksander Madzar (piano)

London Schools Symphony OrchestraPeter Ash

Reviewed by: Edward Clark

Reviewed: 22 September, 2005
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Given the rotten publicity the Government has recently received regarding the failure of certain education programmes, it is a pity that none of Tony Blair’s ministers turned up to hear this London Schools Symphony Orchestra concert. Attempting to curb truancy has resulted in both increased expenditure … and truancy. And yet for literally a fraction of one percent of the cost, the Corporation of London sponsors this magnificent collection of schoolchildren in concerts at the Barbican and often complemented by a summer overseas tour.

Those who did attend heard a life-affirming account of Mahler’s glorious First Symphony, resplendent in its joyous lyricism and defiant gestures. Heaven knows these youngsters have enough pressures in their normal school-lives with continuous assessments; yet they still find time to attain standards of performance that literally stun the senses. Only certain sections of the brass could perhaps have benefited with a little more practice.

To begin the players negotiated the tricky and zany music of Cherubini’s “Ali Baba”, the last of his 35 operas. On the strength of the overture, opera companies should investigate some of these forgotten works, comprising music that Beethoven thought greater than his own! The LSSO produced a splendid, disciplined performance, matching flair with precision.

For the concerto arrived the prize-winning virtuosity of Aleksander Madzar. Every pianist who plays Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, including Madzar, negotiates the technical difficulties with aplomb – which only highlights the often-empty rhetoric of most of the piece. The collaboration of the orchestra was excellent. But perhaps it is time to give this war-horse a rest; there are so many excellent, less-played piano concertos demanding our attention.

Peter Ash, the Artistic Director of the LSSO, has transformed this orchestra since I heard a moribund and poorly executed Sibelius Fifth Symphony some years ago. He is also generous, allowing other conductors to help train and develop the players’ skills. His interpretations are always interesting. Indeed his shaping of this Mahler symphony was natural and unforced, producing a believable affirmation at the end. The players seem to enjoy his friendly yet firm direction; the result is a credit to everyone.

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