The appearance of the Gustav Mahler Jugendorchester is always a highlight of the Prom season, and this talented band of young musicians didnt disappoint indeed this fabulous concert cemented their standing as one of the worlds greatest youth orchestras all its members are under the age of 26 and under the expert guidance of the veteran conductor Sir Colin Davis, produced an evening of exalted music-making, that will linger long in the memory.
The concert began with a violent rendition of Stravinskys disturbing Symphony in Three Movements, and despite the fact that Davis conducted sitting down throughout the evening, he had no problem in galvanizing the various sections of the orchestra to go that extra mile and deliver a superlative performance.
The contrast between the abrasiveness of the Stravinsky and the limpid sensuality of Ravels Shhrazade which followed couldnt have been greater.Susan Graham has sung this work many times, and she is peerless in this repertoire, having an innate affinity with French song. She was on sensational form, bringing out all the colour of the three contrasting songs, her voice sounding sensual, impassioned and sultry. The only fly in the ointment was the tempo that Davis set for the opening song Asie as it was far too pedestrian, causing the melodic line to sag, and Im surprised Graham went along with it. This was a shame, as it marred what would otherwise have been a superlative performance.
There was no shilly-shallying after the interval, when Davis conducted a rip-roaring rendition of Tchaikovskys Symphony No. 4 in F minor. From the rasping opening fate motif on the horns we knew we were in for a rollicking performance, and so it proved to be. The first movement had colossal guts and drive whilst the second contained plenty of delicate and nuanced wind solos, especially from Aljaz Begus (clarinet) and Vaham Khourdoian (bassoon).
The third movement, with its pizzicato strings, was wonderfully controlled both dynamically and stylistically, whilst the brash final movement was viscerally thrilling and stayed on the right sight of excess well just about. The playing throughout was exemplary and it was a joy to see such a committed group of youngsters playing as one living and breathing each bar as if their lives depended on it. Sterling stuff!