Nottingham Youth Orchestra
November 24 2019
Albert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
Nottingham young musicians shine in music of geographical and emotional extremes
You needed a large suitcase if you wanted to accompany the NYO on their travels on Sunday night from Finland to Spain and then to Mexico. And you would have had to pack your snow gear as well as your shorts and sombrero.
The years have shown that the young players of the NYO are nothing if not adaptable, just as good at northern gloom as they are at southern sunshine. And the First Symphony of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius certainly begins in chilly darkness. Over a quiet timpani roll, a solo clarinet broods. In these opening seconds of the concert you could sense the audience holding their breath and wondering if the rest of the piece could possibly be as intense in atmosphere. But it was – and that is down to the dynamic conducting of Natalia Luis-Bassa as well as the talent and commitment of the NYO.
Sibelius poses challenges: for a start his orchestral colouring is very distinctive, pushing solo skills to their limits; and then there’s the fact that he scatters pieces of the musical puzzle (often of hugely varying shapes, sizes and colours) and demands that his orchestras piece them together seamlessly so that the final picture emerges as if organically, as if no other solution were possible. This means very careful rehearsal to ensure not only that individual ideas are beautifully played but that one melts into another with no joins showing, no matter how wide the mood swings, how sharp the switch from fierce to tender.
The result of the tightly disciplined performance achieved on Sunday was that the music was allowed to breathe, with pacing that always seemed just right for the mood. Amongst the highlights: the thrilling end to the first movement (including the cascading violins and growling basses); characterful wind solos in the song-like slow movement; the ultra-fast changes of direction in the buoyant Scherzo and its riskily fast ending; the glorious big tune in the Finale and the excitement generated by pushing dynamics to extremes.
And then it was time to don sunglasses for the concert’s second half. Music from Bizet’s Carmen came first: lots of the famous orchestral numbers fizzed and sparkled and again there was some lovely solo playing, especially the flute in the Intermezzo. The NYO was joined by mezzo Stephanie Maitland in three of Carmen’s arias. She has a wonderfully rich voice (with some stunning chest notes) capable of reaching deep inside the character, uniting her dangerous and seductive sides.
And finally the NYO flew us to Mexico with José Pablo Moncayo’s Huapango, an uninhibited orchestral extravaganza, full of vibrant, toe-tapping Latin American rhythms, lots of exotic percussion instruments…and clearly huge fun to play. At the end Natalia Luis-Bassa applauded the orchestra and they applauded her. Clearly they were made for each other.
Nottingham Youth Orchestra
Natalia Luis-Bassa, conductor
Stephanie Maitland, mezzo-soprano