Tragic Overture, Op.81
Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90
Symphony No.5 in E flat, Op.82
European Union Youth Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 11 August, 2007
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
The European Union Youth Orchestra’s “Summer Tour Programme” this year consists of Brahms and Sibelius conducted by Sir Colin Davis (with concerts in Luxembourg, Rostock, London and Bolzano) and Berg and Bruckner under Herbert Blomstedt (Bolzano, Amsterdam, Berlin and Gdańsk). Two conductor-statesmen (both were born in 1927) with an orchestra of very talented youngsters taken from the 27 countries of the EU (this year’s age-range is from 15 to 25) is a potentially potent mix.
This year the EUYO sports a string section of 85 players (although maybe not quite all were on duty here, and the wind and brass sections, not outsized, had changes of personnel in order to give all a chance). Colin Davis galvanised his young charges for music-making of fervour, confidence and huge commitment.
In the first half of this Prom were a pair of related works by Brahms, both deeply personal and dealing with ‘life’ issues, the Tragic Overture realised with fortitude – Davis digging deeps into the roots of the music – the symphony with stoicism. Both performances had sweep and dynamism without being the last word on incision – trenchant (if not always precise) in attack, refulgent in sound – an outpouring of deep feeling that didn’t wallow (some sentimentality in the Overture and a lessening of pulse in the symphony’s second movement aside). The symphony, given a striving countenance, wasn’t bathed in autumnal serenity but was gently accepting. In an interpretation both structurally cohesive and emotionally expansive, the return of the first-movement exposition was even more intense than before, the second movement Andante was blessed with some breathtaking pianissimos, the Poco allegretto artlessly shaped and with a notable horn solo, and the finale had symphonic power and a beautifully wound-down resolution (whereas the coda of Tragic Overture had blazed resoundingly).
Sibelius’s symphony, like the Brahms pieces had done, hung fire occasionally, and was launched amidst the audience’s hubbub, distant horn calls signalling a time-taken if somewhat jerky awakening. Tremolos had promise, the bassoon soliloquised eloquently and if the movement’s upheaval was less than titanic the resulting music post-transformation was deftly and affectionately handled and built inevitably to the tumultuous final bars (the third timpanist of the evening brought especially articulate and colourful playing).
Not one to be dictated to with that strange ritual of between-movement coughing (no applause, though, fortunately), Davis moved into the Andante mosso, quasi allegretto with alacrity and conjured a virtually ideal account, flowing, rhythmically chiselled, given with a simplicity and a candour that was wonderfully affecting, like a nymphet dancing but with the capacity to metamorphose into a leviathan. The finale was welded-on and was itself indivisibly proportioned through febrile excitement, exultance, surreptitious scurrying (dynamics down to a whisper) and grandness. If the final chords were somewhat ragged – the silences spoke volumes though – a heart-warming sense of occasion was the overriding memory of the concert.