National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain Symphony Hall by David Hart

At 70 the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain isn’t the world’s oldest youth orchestra (the NYO of Wales started three years earlier) but it’s the most illustrious, and with more than 160 players makes a formidable sound. Indeed, the programme for this short tour (Snape, Birmingham and BBC Proms) bristled with sonic delights.
The conductor was Sir George Benjamin, whose undemonstrative demeanour and minimal beat had the quiet authority of a kindly uncle – and produced remarkable results.
Although individual contributions were sensitively executed Mussorgsky’s Night On The Bare Mountain tended to shriek a bit at its loudest points; however, when ears had become fully accustomed to these large forces Debussy’s La Mer at the end of the evening never seemed over-inflated.
In this riveting account changes of mood and texture seem to arise naturally rather than by manipulation, and Benjamin brought a composer’s ear to the shifting relationships between primary and supporting material.
Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand was structured just as persuasively, where the layered orchestral opening provided a menacingly gloomy build up for soloist Tamara Stefanovich’s first entry. And what an entrance it was, wonderfully fierce as if to defy its one-handed status, generously pedalled, and in the later jazzy section evoking a sultry decadence, with a gloweringly powerful cadenza totally coherent in its distinctions between melody and accompaniment.
Benjamin’s own Dance Figures provided a modern counterpart to the Ravel, with punchy tuttis and after-glow sustained echoes demanding extremes of texture and dynamics, which these young players handled quite brilliantly, as they did the hypnotically sustained slow-moving stasis of Ligeti’s Lontana. And what a magical sound that made.
David Hart

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