I first heard the NYO back in 1990 in a performance of Rachmaninov’s Paganini Variations. A year later the band introduced me to Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony in an electrifying performance at the BBC Proms.
Twenty five years later, the next generation of talented teenage musicians delivered a blistering performance of works by Tchaikovsky, Korngold and Prokofiev at at the Barbican, in a performance dedicated to the orchestra’s founder Dame Ruth Railton born in 1916.
Tchaikovsky’s Hamlet Overture made for an ambitious start but gave the orchestra a chance to get used to the acoustic deadened by the capacity audience. Ensemble work from the brass was amazing; the timpanist’s contribution was Herculean.
The reduced forces for the Korngold Violin Concerto were balanced well with soloist Tai Murray’s sweet tone in what was a spirited and assured performance. The ensemble captured the pastoral tone of the first movement without being overly sentimental; the exquisite second movement was suitably golden. Rapturous well-deserved applause rang around the Barbican Concert Hall after the final movement. At no point was there any hint the soloist had to compromise with the band. An electrifying performance.
Similarly, conductor Collon only had to coax the players through Prokofiev’s 5th symphony in a stunning performance which saw the orchestra’s ranks swell once more. The opening of the first movement was expansive and visceral. The terrifying precision of the strings in the second movement was underpinned by a tight percussion section and some seductive legato from the woodwind. Whilst the third started tentatively, the strings achieved a dream-like quality when the whispered waltz made its final appearance. The fourth started with some ravishing emsemble work from the cellis. The conclusion was a blistering tour de force.
NYO gigs are tricky things to write about. What should we focus on? Marvel at teenagers doing a miraculous job? I prefer not. The measure of a good NYO gig is whether or not you can forget the players are the age they are. I did. This was a remarkable gig.
BBC Radio 3 recorded the concert for broadcast on Monday 4 January 2016.
The National Orchestra of Great Britain is sponsored by Quilter Cheviot Investment Management.