Purcell School Symphony Orchestra

La forza del destino – Overture
Piano Concerto No.2 in A
Clement Rooney
Five Pieces for Orchestra
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27

Alexander Ullman (piano)

Purcell School Symphony Orchestra
Peter Stark

Reviewed by: Andrew Maisel

Reviewed: 2 March, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

Peter Stark. Photograph: peterstark.co.ukThe Purcell School for young musicians is the oldest specialist school of its type in the UK and has won numerous awards here and abroad for its work. Based in Bushey in Hertfordshire, the School’s orchestras play numerous concerts nationally and internationally. Most of the musicians in this concert’s orchestra seemed to be in their early- to mid-teens with the odd member of staff thrown in for good measure.

The overture to “La forza del destino” showed an orchestra that wasn’t afraid to express itself. Well rehearsed, under the watchful eye of conductor Peter Stark (consultant to the BBC 2 series “Maestro”) the performance was full of panache and colour with a quite striking use of dynamic range. Ensemble was tight, the strings rich and warm, the brass full of bite.

Alexander Ullman, winner of the School’s concerto competition and numerous other prizes gave a highly dramatic Liszt Second Piano Concerto, which was exciting and brilliant but was lacking slightly in poetic insights. Ullman’s technique was fully up to Liszt’s demands but there was a tendency to over-egg the full-blooded approach, which glossed over Liszt’s subtlety in lyrical passages. Balance between soloist and orchestra was ideal, Stark extracting similarly full-blooded support from the orchestra.Clement Rooney is a student at the Purcell School. A couple of years ago he had a work performed by the Nash Ensemble when he was just 14. His Five Pieces for Orchestra draw inspiration from Boulez, Stockhausen and Elliott Carter. There’s certainly a lot to look forward to from him if this promising work is anything to go by. The exotic textures he draws from a string ensemble, brass, wind and timpani rather make me keen to hear more from this composer.

Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony was performed without any cuts. It was maybe a bridge too far for the young musicians who started off where they had left off in the Liszt but seemed to tire. Nevertheless, they played with spontaneity allied to great discipline and much of this credit must go down to Peter Stark who conducted with lucidity and a sense of purpose. The first movement was well shaped and paced, its yearning nicely captured although there was some loss of tension mid-way through. The scherzo exposed some thinness in the strings, but Stark never lost the movement’s shape. The beautiful clarinet solo opening the Adagio was played with feeling but the finale was a rather lacklustre affair with some loss of discipline and a few too many mistakes from the brass. The build-up to the coda was a bit of a struggle but this slight anticlimax shouldn’t detract from a promising performance from a group of highly talented and committed musicians for whom the future is bright.

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