European Union Youth Orchestra

Rhapsodie espagnole
Symphony No.1 in B flat minor

Bernarda Fink (mezzo-soprano)

European Union Youth Orchestra
Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Reviewed by: Edward Clark

Reviewed: 24 August, 2005
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

The glossy brochure explained to the audience all that needed to be known about the make-up and aspirations of the European Union Youth Orchestra. On the assumption of the brochures’ cost, money is no object in annually motivating and training some of the most talented European musicians of the emerging generation. This year the result is truly a thoroughbred orchestra that showed its outstanding credentials in two of Ravel’s most magical scores.

In both Rhapsodie espagnole and “Shéhérazade” the demands set by the composer were more than met by Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his young players. The opening of Rhapsodie espagnole displayed an ability to obtain the most refined and exquisite sounds from a large orchestra. Gardiner was observant of the ebb and flow inherent in the plasticity of the music’s rhythms.

Similarly Bernarda Fink and the orchestra beautifully caught the ultra-refinement in “Shéhérazade”. Fink’s is a light-toned voice, which floated effortlessly through Ravel’s shimmering sounds.

Gardiner learnt Walton’s First Symphony for this Prom and his careful preparation bought dividends to many aspects of this monumental score. However the nature of the orchestra that allowed so much refinement in Ravel was not the required quality for, at least, the first two movements of Walton’s symphony. The anger and belligerence that is surely a deliberate feature in these first two movements were alien feelings to these young players. Although Gardiner adopted urgent tempos, recalcitrant brass and a timpanist that lacked venom nullified the impact. Walton’s bloody-minded, Lancastrian, temperament was almost completely lacking.

However, with anger duly spent, the remaining two movements proved more suited to the orchestra’s mood; hence the players’ ability to produce both polish and virtuosity. For an encore a beautifully refined performance of Elgar’s Sospiri: quiet, reflective sadness.

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