THE exciting Shostakovich “Festive Overture” did not start well with out-of-tune brass, a lack of sustaining quality in the lower-pitched instruments and loose, untidy rhythm throughout and I feared that the ambitious and demanding program set for this concert in their 50th anniversary year would prove to be beyond the capabilities of the developing players of the Canberra Youth Orchestra.
Thankfully that hesitancy did not prevail and, once the overture was out of the way, the orchestra settled to produce an enjoyable concert with players rising to competently meet the widely varied musical challenges set for them.
The greatest strength of the CYO rests in its large and talented string sections and they were particularly solid and comfortable in providing the accompaniment for Shirani Mudaliar as she played the Allegro movement from Mozart’s “Violin Concerto no 3”. Shirahni was runner up in the 2017 CYO Concerto Competition and, while she was somewhat emotionally restrained, she demonstrated fine technical ability and a confident maturity in her interpretation. The cadenza was particularly pleasing with the difficult intervals consistently pitched truly and accurately.
The Paul Hindemith “Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber” began with some rhythmic hesitation but settled well once the tutti passages were reached. The other major strength in the orchestra is the wind group and in the allegro opening the oboe and flute were excellent as were the strings and a tightly controlled percussion section.
The Scherzo 2nd movement featured wonderful clarity of sound from clarinet and flute, a much more assured brass component and neat, precise tympani work. The soaring, beautiful flute of Serena Ford, balanced splendidly with high quality tone from the clarinet of Sam Cass, dominated the Andantino 3rd movement. Under tightly disciplined rhythmic control from conductor Leonard Weiss, the work then closed with a rousing finale. This was a fine performance of a taxing work.
Chayla Ueckert-Smith was the winner of this year’s Concerto Competition. One of her rewards was the opportunity to perform the Ralph Vaughan Williams “Concerto for Oboe and Strings” on this concert.
Supported by rich, well balanced and absolutely accurate strings Chayla played with a clean, crisp tone and outstanding technical agility. Except for some moments of instability during the initial phrases of the Minuet 2nd movement she handled the complexities of this demanding concerto with seeming ease. A big musical future is certainly in store for her.
Leonard Weiss again exhibited his comprehensive understanding of 20th century music during the finale – the atmospheric “Suite from Firebird” by Stravinsky. Shimmering strings, led by passionate and inspirational concertmaster Helena Popovic, were neatly balanced, with dynamic control and contrast a feature. There certainly was fire in the playing with a rather grandiose and brilliant ending, a fitting close to a night of commendable achievement for these young musicians.
This was a concert of daring programming from conductor Weiss and Music for Canberra artistic director Kathleen Grant. Hearty congratulations to them for the faith and belief they showed in their players. Just one little showmanship comment – how lovely it would be if the players would smile with grace and appreciation as they accept the warmth of audience applause!