This Easter Sunday concert at the Royal Festival Hall saw the National Youth Orchestra reunited with conductor Vasily Petrenko, a partnership that delivered one of the most electrifying concerts of the 2009 Proms. If the results this time didnt quite reach the same level, it nonetheless provided a stimulating afternoon of music making.
The concert opened with We are shadows, a 1999 choral work by Judith Weir, herself a previous member of the NYO. Comprising six short movements, We are shadows is based on texts from a variety of sources, including Chinese poets, inscriptions on Scottish gravestones, and a carving on a former Huguenot chapel in Londons East End. Weirs writing is warm and tonal, reminiscent of the choral tradition of Vaughan Williams and Walton, although with a rhythmic and instrumental variety in keeping with its more recent provenance. The performance benefited from the enthusiastic contributions of the Quay Voices, Quay Lads and Quay Lasses from The Sage Gateshead and the National Youth Choir of Scotland.
The principal work on the programme was Mahlers Tenth Symphony, scheduled as part of the Southbank Centres commemoration of the composers death 100 years ago next month. Petrenkos conception of the symphony was highly individual, with challengingly fast tempi, bringing considerable fervour to the arching phrases of the opening Adagio and a great deal of excitement to the second and fourth movement scherzos. The quality of the NYOs ensemble in the first of these, one of the most rhythmically complex movements in the repertoire, was breathtaking. The searingly dissonant climaxes in the first and fifth movements were powerfully driven home, and there were numerous refined and characterful solos from individual players.
Unfortunately, Petrenkos fast tempi also detracted from the performance, failing to yield for such passages as the lndler sections of the second movement, which were short of warmth and elegance. And when Petrenko did relax, such as in the coda of the first movement or the slower sections of the fifth movement, the phrasing was sometimes a little too literal and unidiomatic.
Petrenko used the Cooke performing edition of Mahlers unfinished score, although with some of the minor amendments that Sir Simon Rattle uses, including additional cymbal crashes in the climaxes of the fourth movement and single drum beat to join the fourth and fifth movements. This was altogether a thoughtful and gripping interpretation, but a more variegated approach would have delivered a more rounded and moving account of this most personal of Mahler symphonies.
Further details of Royal Festival Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk