wed 26/02/2020

BBC Proms: Aldeburgh World Orchestra, Elder | reviews, news & interviews

BBC Proms: Aldeburgh World Orchestra, Elder

BBC Proms: Aldeburgh World Orchestra, Elder

An orchestra of young musicians challenge their youthful contemporaries at the Olympics

Few conductors can get more out of a youth orchestra than Mark ElderAll images © BBC/Chris Christodoulou

Formed especially for the London 2012 Festival, the Aldeburgh World Orchestra does what it says on the tin: bringing together talented young musicians from across the world in a single youth orchestra. Under the direction of Mark Elder, musicians from 35 countries, including Jordan, Ukraine, Malaysia and Uzbekistan amongst others, joined together to perform a mixed programme of music from Mahler, Britten and Stravinsky, as well as the world premiere of Charlotte Bray’s At The Speed of Stillness.

Owing to circumstances beyond my control I was unable to stay for the second half of the concert. The review that follows will regretfully only be able to address the music of the first – Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem and the Adagio from Mahler’s Symphony No. 10.

Gratification was delayed with carefully calibrated gestures of withholding and release

Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem is a too-often neglected early statement of the pacifist convictions Britten would so express so monumentally at the latter end of his career in the War Requiem. Recently however it has seen quite a few outings in London concert halls, including an astonishing performance at last year’s Proms by Mark Wigglesworth and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. What emerged last night however was altogether more tentative – a rather scrappy start to a concert that showed far better of these musicians than we saw here.

To ask a group of young musicians, however talented as soloists, to come together for the first time as a new ensemble and perform in a uniquely challenging venue like the Royal Albert Hall is huge, and any criticism must take this into account. However having heard the maturity and sudden depth of sound that emerged during the Mahler it is clear that this ensemble is capable of producing the goods.

After its opening thunder-clap from timpani, Britten’s twitching Lachrymosa got off to a rather slow start under Elder, generating plenty of uncertainty in the strings, but not quite the momentum the composer encodes into this march towards death, fulfilled so spectacularly in the Scherzo-like Dies Irae. Elder was clearly playing a long game with the movement, compelling the audience to strain inwards to find the drama rather than reaching too eagerly outwards. The pay-off did come later (despite some stammers from the horns at the critical moment), but we didn’t fully experience the ferocity of the work until the wind came into their own in the next movement.

Thanks to some beautiful work from the woodwind (the flutes made a beautiful job of the Requiem Aeternam duet, and both oboe and saxophone pleaded tirelessly with the audience for redemption) all came together for Brittten’s “final resolution”, but it was left to the Mahler to release the full flesh of their texture from the strings.

Rather than perform the full Deryck Cooke reconstruction, the orchestra opted to excerpt the mostly-Mahler first-movement Adagio from the Tenth Symphony. Swooning with portamenti the strings coaxed us warmly into their ardent, generous reading of the movement, and even brass (strikingly dominated by British musicians) came together cleanly to add sheen to the composer’s emotive climaxes. Pacing here felt far more organic, delaying gratification with carefully calibrated gestures of withholding and release. If there was still the slightest of reluctances to force the moment to a crisis, then it was a small gripe in the face of such heart-felt intensity.

Elder is a conductor who knows how to get the best out of a young ensemble (as evidenced by the brilliant performance of the Australian Youth Orchestra last year). Last night he demonstrated once again what young musicians are capable of, and while their contemporaries from across the world are proving their mettle over in East London it is heartening to see the young cultural athletes showcasing their skills and training over in the West.

 

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