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Ades, Benjamin, Rachmaninoff and Ravel

Thomas Ades: Overture, Waltz & Finale from Powder Her Face
Sergey Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances
George Benjamin: Dance Figures
Maurice Ravel: La Valse

national youth orchestra of great britain/Paul Daniel conductor
Royal Festival HallSunday 19 April 2009, 3.30pm

Hard on the heels of Gustavo Dudamel and his young Venezuelans, who we heard only in rehearsal - though only is not the right word - here was our own national youth orchestra (a much younger one than theirs) with a dauntingly demanding programme. How much understanding of any of these works can 13 & 14 yr olds have brought to fulfilling their task?

A very different figure than the tiny Dudamel, Paul Daniel (more often to be seen in London rising up above the ENO orchestra pit) brought his own charisma, technical expertise and enthusiasm to all these challenging works.

But by comparison this was a sober, serious event. The winds and percussion were splendid. But what was lacking, by comparison with the South Americans, was intensity from the massed strings of the 160 polite Britishers. Ours were formally dressed, with only one cellist venturing a noticeable hair style of today; they were too busy getting the notes right to smile, but the families in the audience were justifiably proud...

With eyes shut, the twelve basses gave no more body to the orchestral sound than the usual eight or less, and the same could be said of the massed violins. Only in the Ravel was there due lustre; was that possibly related to Ravel's fame as an orchestrator?

Times have surely moved on. When one of my sons was in that same orchestra, the fare was mainly standard, and as a trombonist all he got to do was to play in a single movement, a Brahms symphony finale... They would not have been able to even attempt most of the works prepared to such a high standard by Paul Daniel.

A fine afternoon's music-making to be sure, and the achievement a cause for amazement and congratulations on all fronts, but afterwards one reflected that 4 players in the morning had given possibly more musical satisfaction than 160 in the afternoon. There's food for thought...

Peter Grahame Woolf

For unreserved enthusiasm, see Michael Church in The Independent