National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain/Semyon Bychkov

Bow-Wave [London premiere]
Eine alpensinfonie, Op.64

London Voices

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
Peter Wiegold
Semyon Bychkov [Berio & Strauss]

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 9 January, 2009
Venue: Roundhouse, Chalk Farm Road, London NW11

Peter Wiegold. Photograph: year on, the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain returned to the Roundhouse (the 1970s were a cutting-edge time here with Boulez and the BBC). There was a peremptory air to the opening of this concert (which had already been played in Manchester and Birmingham) … we started late, some members of the audience were later still and added their own noise to what the members of the NYO were already doing. Peter Wiegold was directing Bow-Wave, a collaborative piece for orchestra plus a couple of electric guitars, an accordion and a Celtic harp … oh, and the cellists twirled their instruments around … not sure why, but then a big question mark hovered over the whole enterprise, which was full of sounds but not much more!

Semyon BychkovLuciano Berio’s Sinfonia is now 40 years old and seems not to date. Certainly the integration of voices (eight) and instruments casts its own spell (the vocalists’ amplification well-managed here), so too the enigma of the often-deliberately-obscured (multi-lingual and flexible to the occasion) texts mingling with Berio’s kaleidoscopic use of the orchestra. Semyon Bychkov and the NYO gave a very confident account of this 5-movement classic, sometimes too assured in that the finely-achieved clarity lacked a little edge and the middle movement – essentially the scherzo of Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony somewhat emendated by Berio as well as punctuated with quotations (from Debussy’s La mer, Ravel’s La valse, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony, et al) – which here moved with ease (the whole a brilliant confection) if maybe too familiarly.

Richard Strauss’s An Alpine Symphony (as extravagant and as outsize as the NYO itself!) was a triumph. Superbly prepared and played, and lucidly conducted, one forgot that the players are aged somewhere between 13 and 19. In addition to the wonderfully confident response of the NYO, Bychkov saw this (ostensibly) trip up and down a mountain in wholly symphonic terms. Indeed the travelogue aspects weren’t really in the equation (they are but the starting point), the listener constantly aware of a huge musical structure being unfolded and that everything belongs (even the ‘lapses’ on the way down!). For such cohesion, and numerous other reasons, the performance was remarkable, not least for being rich in incident and ardour.

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