National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain

Serenade for Strings, Op.48
Concerto for piano and wind instruments
Symphonie fantastique, Op.14

Alexander Korsantya (piano)

National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
Gianandrea Noseda

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 18 April, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

National Youth Orchestra concerts always aim for the highest quality, a performance standard that knocks on the door of professionalism and usually walks on through, victorious. Such fearless commitment to the cause of music was vividly on display at this concert; a demanding programme (protracted by unavoidable platform changes and more avoidable ‘musical chairs’, or lack of them) that had been very thoroughly prepared and was successfully delivered. The platform was full to bursting for the Berlioz, the NYO’s ‘tradition’ of fielding more players to a part than is ‘normal’ here yielding an orchestra of 160 youngsters, aged between 13 and 19 – Berlioz would have loved the extravagance!

Such numbers did not compromise the subtlety of Berlioz’s invention or his lucid scoring; nor were fortissimos gratuitous. By now unwelcome applause between movements had more or less been quelled, and Gianandrea Noseda led a charged and vibrant account of Berlioz’s delirious symphony, sometimes rather self-conscious, sometimes diversionary in drawing attention to passages that should be more integrated, although on observing the repeat in the first movement, Noseda varied his tactics.

However well-prepared – and it was – there was plenty of spontaneity and electricity as well as romantic bloom, the latter best exemplified in a daringly slow account of the central ‘Scène aux champs’ (exchanges between cor anglais and off-stage oboe very well judged) – even if emotions were rather hamstrung at times. Least convincing was ‘Marche au supplice’, foreshortened by Noseda passing on Berlioz’s (admittedly strange) request to repeat the first section, and with a rather middle of the road tempo (Berlioz seems to have wanted something really quite measured) and a collective sound that was short on glower. The caustic woodwinds and cumulative thrill of the ‘Witches’ Sabbath’ finale compensated for this, however, with clangourous if not doom-laden enough bells. An inconsistent interpretation (if including the ad lib cornet part in ‘Un bal’) but sustained by the eagerness, sensitivity and responsiveness of the young players to the energising and punctilious Noseda.

But there were simply too many musicians to a part for the Stravinsky, the too thick sound compromising clarity and balance (if not decoration and syncopation). Alexander Korsantya gave the work a thorough going over! His brittle phrasing in the central Largo, at too slow a tempo, was resistible, and there were few moments when this performance could be said to have ‘worked’, save, again, for the quality of musicianship.

Best of all was the opening Tchaikovsky, the 87 string-players (12 being doubles bassists) producing a sonority that this misnomer of a work can take, certainly when combined with Noseda searching the work in an unusually spacious, emotional and voluble performance. (If only he had used antiphonal violins! Ditto for Berlioz.) How magnificently Noseda shaped Tchaikovsky’s work, what feeling he found in it, how telling were dynamic changes, and with what unanimity the players responded. The ‘Elegy’, veiled and hushed, entered a very private world and some of Tchaikovsky’s most personal music was persuasively expanded.

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