Youth orchestra rises to challenge


Meistersinger Prelude - Wagner

Till Eulenspiegel - Strauss

Symphony No 9 (Choral) - Beethoven

There's a story told of Richard Strauss, at the end of his life, conducting a great orchestra and complaining about the precision of their playing in a particular passage. When he'd written the piece, he explained, he hadn't expected orchestras of the day to manage everything exactly as written. So, please, if they could play it a bit less accurately, it would sound more like what he had intended.

The programme planning of the Toyota-sponsored National Youth Orchestra has long taken into account the phenomenon Strauss was talking of. The last concert to feature one of the Viennese classics was in 1992 (when Albert Rosen conducted Schubert's Fifth Symphony), so the inclusion of Beethoven's Choral Symphony in the New Year programme for 1998 was more of a novelty for the NYO than might immediately be obvious.

Alexander Anissimov, principal conductor of the NSO, has already done sterling work with the musicians of the NYO, and Saturday's programme at the NCH built on the strength of the existing foundation. The Prelude to Wagner's Meistersinger and Strauss's Till Eulenspiegel gave the players ample opportunity to strut and frolic, Anissimov's skills in balancing urgency and relaxation providing a secure arena for some very fine solos.

Beethoven's Choral, inevitably, was a tougher nut to crack, the music exposing any imperfections in ensemble and infelicities of balance as well as slips of lip or finger with unremitting candour. Yet Anissimov and his players rose to the challenges with a sureness of spirit that placed their music-making well above the shallow travails of the last two professional performances I have heard, from the Ulster Orchestra under Dmitry Sitkovetsky and the NSO under Kasper de Roo.

The greatest dangers came from the players' collective inclination to inch ahead of the conductor's beat, but Anissimov never faltered in adhering to his chosen path, so that in even the most demanding parts of the slow movement the performance remained persuasive. The soloists in the finale, Orla Boylan, Doreen Curran, Marcel Reijans and Philip O'Reilly, made an even team placed at the front of the choir balcony, and although the two choirs involved, the Guinness Choir and the Mary Immaculate College Choir from Limerick, sounded rather recessed, the drama of Anissimov's conducting, here, rounded the performance off in dynamic style.