Founded as the Young Musicians
Symphony Orchestra by James Blair in 1971, the National Musicians Symphony
Orchestra offers training and playing experience to students from music
colleges all over Britain. Many of our leading symphony orchestras have
ex-NMSO players within their ranks. The importance of the NMSO is that
it provides the essential bridge between the colleges and the profession,
giving students the experience of becoming familiar with the classical
repertoire, rehearsal schedules and performing in major concert halls
throughout the country.
This concert opened with a broad
spacious account of Franz Lisztís Les Préludes. This popular
symphonic poem can easily sound brash but under James Blairís sensitive
baton the music had a noble grandeur; light and tranquil in the lyrical
passages, and elevating in the weighty climactic moments where the percussion
and brass played with great incisiveness. Notably impressive was the
assured and refined timpani playing of Tom Marsden whose use of hard
sticks had great effect.
Ernö Dohnányiís rarely heard Konzertstuck for cello in D-major,
Op.12 was written in 1904 and dedicated to the German cellist Hugo Becker
who gave the first performance under the direction of the composer.
The Konzertstuck is formed as a single unbroken strand of music falling
into three clearly defined sections as opposed to distinct movements.
The 17 year old Hungarian cellist István Várdai, coming
from a celebrated family of musicians in the city of Pécs, gave
each of the sections a distinctly different sound world, with Blair
and the NMSO offering sensitive support and polished playing.
Várdai played the opening
passages in a subdued, mellow manner, shifting to a more brooding and
darker sound in the slow central section, whilst in the concluding part
Várdaiís performance took on an acidic bite, which added even
greater poignancy. His refreshingly unmannered playing eschewed the
usual agonised grimaces and heavy-handed scraping affected by so many
star cellists who play to the gallery. For
a musician so young his playing was remarkably mature and self-assured.
Dohnányiís sadly neglected
score sounded reminiscent of Franz Schmidt and Richard Strauss with
its full-blooded Romanticism and melancholic lyricism. This almost forgotten
masterpiece deserves to be played in the concert hall more often and
István Várdai should be asked to record his masterly interpretation
of it for one of the majors, perhaps coupled with Sir Donald Francis
Toveyís similarly underplayed Cello Concerto.
(Readers may wish to hear Dohnányiís
Konzertstuck with Maria Kliegel (cello), Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia,
Budapest, Michael Halasz, on Naxos 8.554468 review).
The concluding work was Serge
Rachmaninovís Second Symphony in E minor, Op.27 which gave the NMSO
a chance to show off and shine. James Blair conducted the Largo-Allegro
moderato with great flair and thrusting urgency, coaxing forth some
poignant woodwind playing. The Allegro molto was played with
a far grainier and metallic sound than we are used to, with Blair producing
a cutting terror with his jagged rhythms.
The NMSO strings were in their
element in the Adagio with Blair slowly building up tension and
expression, perfectly judging the climaxes but without making the music
sound like a kitsch Hollywood film score. This was a very emotionally
draining experience so deeply felt and expressive were both conducting
and playing. Blair and his inspired forces played with great flair and
swagger in the concluding Finale: Allegro vivace with the brass
and percussion having a crisp impact without ever drowning out their
colleagues. The seemingly magnified and close acoustic of St. Johnís
Smith Square was an ideal instrument in itself for showing off the clarity
and textures of the NMSO.
The Rt. Hon. John Gummer gave
an impassioned plea to the audience for donations to keep this orchestra
thriving, arguing that it represented our future soloists as well as
orchestra players of the future. Gummer made the point, in the context
of funding the arts, that wherever he went abroad in Europe he was always
told: "How bad we are about cultureÖ." in Britain.
With the recent projected shake-up
in the distribution of the National Lottery funding, it would not be
a bad idea for music lovers to unite and insist that a substantial cheque
be written for the NMSO to secure their future. As Gummer reminded us:
"The most important thing one can do is to make a difference".
And the NMSO does make a real and valuable difference to the
cultural life of this country.