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A frustrating experience

DAVID WILKINS listens to the
London Philharmonic Youth Orchestra
at the Congress Theatre in Eastbourne, UK, on 12 January 2003


Thanks to the advances in the technical skills of young players, we have come, over recent years, to expect to be able to judge the playing of major youth orchestras by the highest of standards. The days when their concerts were a comfort-zone for proud parents and a no-go-area for those with ears to hear are, thankfully, long gone.

On a previous visit to the Congress, the London Philharmonic Youth Orchestra gave a performance of Elgar 1 that came close to achieving professional status. This time around, from the unenthusiastic nature of their demeanour, via some poor tuning and shoddy ensemble, they seemed to be demanding that too many allowances be made for their comparative inexperience. If these are indeed the cream of the 18-26 year-old advanced instrumental students available in this country, then the professional orchestras looking for a healthy future need to have an urgent word with the immigration authorities.

A common sense awareness of limitations rather than canny oriental wisdom was the likely cause for conductor, Takuo Yuasa, replacing the programmed Adagio from Mahler's Tenth Symphony with some less demanding excerpts from Humperdinck's Hansel & Gretel. No platform announcement of the late change was made and some of those without a programme insert may still be labouring under worrying misapprehensions about quite what it was they heard.

Susan Tomes. Photo © Peter Smith
Susan Tomes. Photo © Peter Smith

Susan Tomes brought some aristocratic poise to Mozart's G major Piano Concerto and, with her wealth of chamber music experience, encouraged some felicitous interchanges with the orchestral woodwind. For the most part, however, the accompaniment was flat-footed. The body language of the orchestral string section was a bit of a give away. Quite how you can look as if you've mislaid a winning lottery ticket while playing Mozart (in G major -- for heavens sake!) beats me.

Brahms 2 in the second half fared better. Yuasa drew some long-phrased lines and established a concentration from the players that maximised excitement while keeping their inherent waywardness to a minimum. Sadly, his most imploring gestures could do nothing to improve the ugliness of the cello sound or the perfunctory placing of chords from the heavy brass. The first horn was a star. Some of the woodwind playing was delicate and delightful. Since they did get off the starting blocks and cross the finishing line, the majority must be classified as 'also-rans'. A frustrating experience.

Copyright © 17 January 2003 David Wilkins, Eastbourne, Sussex, UK





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