Returning once again to the Welsh capital, the 115 strong National Youth Orchestra of Wales took to the stage at St David’s Hall for the final performance of their 2015 tour. Performing an equally exciting and exhausting compilation of early twentieth-century Parisian ballet works, the orchestra was in the capable hands of internationally acclaimed conductor Paul Daniel (CBE) whose ambitious second half of the programme pushed the orchestra to their limits.
Easing in with Paul Dukas’ lesser known La Péri, this was an apt work to sit alongside Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring as the two pieces premièred in the same year. Daniel’s was a subtle interpretation; the introductory rousing brass fanfare moved into a contrasting web of gorgeous full bodied melodies in the strings and ethereal orchestral pianissimos that captured the mysticism of the Persian legend of Alexander the Great that the work is inspired by. This was followed by Florent Schmitt`s La Tragedie de Salome, another atmospheric piece during which the impressionistic oboe and cor anglais passages were particularly enticing. Set in two, the second part was characterised particularly well. Full of suspense and percussive pathetic fallacy, the thunderclaps added colour and maintained the momentum of the storm.
It was a well thought out programme. The first half of the concert passed quickly with beautiful melodies and subtlety that was set up to be utterly shattered in the second half by Stravinsky’s savage The Rite of Spring. When I discovered that the NYOW were braving Stravinsky’s finest work, I felt a pang that I was no longer sitting in the violin section. This is a work that every musician wants to experience on stage.
Prefaced by a harp fanfare written during the NYOW residency by two young composers, the intricate introduction was confidently conducted by co-writer Daniel Soley. Immediately following this, Paul Daniel waited for complete silence before handing over to Llewelyn Edwards to initiate the singing bassoon opening to The Rite of Spring during which the orchestra’s capability was showcased.
For the most part, the relentless rhythmic frenzy was precisely executed and the tumultuous full orchestral sound during the sacrifice was attacked with sheer force and commitment; it is clear that Paul Daniel has worked tirelessly with the responsive orchestra to pull off such a monumentally challenging work. Many would be sceptical about whether a programme this ambitious could be effectively performed by a youth orchestra but, as always, the National Youth Orchestra of Wales stepped up to the challenge. Incorporating The Rite of Spring into the programme gave soloists particularly in the woodwind section, the opportunity to demonstrate their maturity as players.
After a two week intense rehearsal and concert schedule, the professionalism and commitment from these talented young performers will come at the usual price. Today the famous Nash Crash begins for them all!