Review / The music of imagery and more

Music / Canberra Youth Orchestra 2018 Subscription Series – Concert 2. At Llewellyn Hall, June 30. Reviewed by IAN McLEAN

Flautist Serena Ford… a beautiful pure tone and quite amazing technical dexterity.

THIS concert, featuring music of imagery, was most enjoyable and provided a solid indication that the upcoming generation of young classical musicians will provide a solid foundation for our numerous professional music organisations in the years to come.

The large string section was particularly impressive displaying a full-bodied group sound that was well balanced with most pleasing qualities of tone and intonation.

The winds, except for a few incidents of internal untunefulness, played well, the advanced technical ability of the players is quite outstanding.

The brass section did not enjoy the most consistent of nights with some of the tricky repertoire, but are developing well into a solid and cohesive group. The first horn, Olivia Maccora, has a delightful sound throughout her extensive range. So does tuba player Alex Fuller, who was quite competent in his upper range but absolutely solid when down low. There were a few indecisive percussion moments in the second half of the program but generally they lay a sound rhythmic foundation.

The concert opened with “Sonic Boom”, a fanfare representing the breaking of the sound barrier. It was written by Dr Natalie Williams, currently on staff at the ANU School of Music. The trumpets needed to provide the “sonic” effect with huge brass herald-like sounds, but lacked the musical maturity to sufficiently ride and project over the fine basis laid by the strings and woodwind.

“Running-Resting-Reeling” by Canberra composer Sally Whitwell was a delight. Imagery was captured perfectly, the orchestra certainly ran in the first movement as melodic phrases were most effectively passed, baton relay-like, throughout the orchestra. In contrast the “Resting” movement was beautifully reflectively with excellent clarinet playing, lovely dreamy flute work and a rich undercurrent of long string chords.

The final “Reeling” movement needed additional lightness to truly capture the rustic nature of folk song. It was well played but became a touch heavy and ponderous and so failed to capture the anticipated excitement of a Celtic reel.

Serena Ford is a musician of great ability and promise. As winner of the 2018 CYO Concerto Competition, she was invited to perform the flute concerto, “La Flute De Pan” by Jules Mouquet.

She has a beautiful pure tone and quite amazing technical dexterity. She was overpowered by the orchestra when playing in her lower register but the second movement in particular, with pretty interplay with horn and delicate, well-balanced winds, was excellent and appropriately soothing. A light, breezy and fluttering finale brought a well-deserved standing ovation.

Mussorgsky’s demanding “Pictures at an Exhibition” occupied the second half of the concert and the orchestra rose to the challenge well.

While there was a tendency to cut off phrases early, which created unwanted musical gaps, the young players produced a full-bodied and well-balanced ensemble sound. There was excellent dynamic contrast during the “Gnomus” movement, a quite stunning and haunting atmosphere during “The Old Castle”, tight, relentless rhythm interspersed with delicate strings and flowing clarinet during “Tuileries” and a pleasing building of intensity during “Bydto”, which depicts a wagon being drawn ever closer by a cow.

The “Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks” was light and suitably frenetic and “The Marketplace at Limoges” certainly depicted the chaos and bustle of such a place.

Conductor Leonard Weiss selected a demanding program and the young players rose to the numerous challenges. Leonard kept a necessary controlled rein on tempo and, through fine dynamic contrast and variation, he admirably realised the musical imagery required from the works on the program. He has a fine group of players to work with and this entertaining concert was a good indication of their collective ability. CYO is travelling well!

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