The NYO play three concerts in Snape, Birmingham and at the BBC Proms on consecutive nights this week. The programme is big (to suit the considerable 164-strong forces) demanding stamina from all on stage. At the opening concert in Snape last night the energy was high and the concentration focussed. This bodes very well for the orchestra’s appearance at the BBC Proms on Saturday night.
Heat threatened the opening work – A Night On a Bare Mountain. Mussorgsky’s crowd-pleaser is surprisingly demanding, with exposed wind and strings at key points. The NYO commanded the work well.
Conductor George Benjamin’s work – Dance Figures – was a far more delicate and precise work, giving the players the chance to demonstrate considerable agility in a performance that was at times intimate despite the considerable forces still on stage.
The stage resetting necessary to accommodate a concert grand for the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand by Ravel, inevitably interrupted the energy in the hall. The orchestra worked hard (leader Patrick Bevan in particular) to recover lost ground, but it brought into sharp relief how little contrast Ravel built into his showpiece.
Where soloist Tamara Stefanovich really connected with the audience was during the encore where she paid tribute to the late Olly Knussen playing a short work by the local composer who conducted his last concert in the hall in June of this year. An audible sigh of appreciation rippled around the auditorium when she announced her intent.
It was the second half where the NYO hit their stride. Ligeti’s Lontano demonstrated the musicians considerable achievements during their residential study course. This was an absorbing performance created with innate skill and precision – one where the music was the only thing of importance on stage, not the age of those performing it.
Debussy’s La Mer concluded what had been a demanding play for the musicians on stage. Warm textures, exquisitely executed detail in the strings, and some remarkable solos from the clarinet showed the band capitalising on the acoustic.
In some respects, the relatively cramped surroundings of Snape Maltings Concert Hall must have made this a tough opening night for the NYO. Symphony Hall is a better proportion for their scale and range. The Royal Albert Hall will suit them to perfection. I can’t wait to hear them on the radio.