This is a fine reminder of just what a good orchestra the Young
Musicians Symphony Orchestra is. The four works chosen are not
the most obvious but they show vibrant music-making from young
people who are obviously enjoying the thrill of performance.
Britten’s Sea Interludes are given as real portraits
and not as orchestral showpieces. There’s the real tang
of the sea in the air, here. One can almost hear the seagulls
circling above our heads. Sunday Morning is nice and sprightly
and the Storm is suitably forceful, There’s some
very fine playing here from the young musicians, and very good
direction from James Blair.
The first two movements from Elgar’s Cello Concerto -
I would willingly have the Bizet Suite removed in order
to allow for the other two movements from Elgar’s masterpiece
- receive a strong performance from Felix Schmidt; full of longing
and loneliness in the first movement and the scherzo is held
in check and not allowed to rush away in a flurry of semiquavers.
This is a very pleasing, small-scale, performance, the perfect
antidote to the hot-house interpretation of Jacqueline du Pré.
Catherine Hopper has a rich, fruity, voice, full of alto promise
tinged with a mezzo’s upper register. Her performance of
Elgar’s Sea Pictures is very good, her enunciation
is very good, there’s a controlled vibrato, and her breathing
is fabulous. Perhaps the second song, In Haven, is a
tad on the fast side but it can take it. This is, in any event,
small point. The whole performance is excellent, very exciting
and doesn’t allow the music to wallow in the doldrums
of some of the words. Ms Hooper is a singer with a big future,
out for her.
In the 2nd Suite from Bizet’s
opera Carmen, arranged by Fritz Hoffmann, Blair shows
a sure touch, never too heavy. He really makes this delightful
music sing, even though there are no voices, as such. There’s
also a lovely, brash, version of the Toreadors’ march.
Since its formation in 1971, the Young Musicians Symphony Orchestra
has been conducted by James Blair in a wide range of repertoire,
especially English works, such as Bax’s Phantasy for
viola and orchestra, Delius’s and Havergal Brian’s Violin
Concertos - all with the much missed Ralph Holmes. This disk
is a proud tribute to its efforts in training young musicians.
These performances are very good indeed, with spirit, insight
and life. The recording is bright and clear, one would never
know that they were from live performances were it not for the
applause at the end of each piece, save the Cello Concerto.
Blair’s advocacy of English music has rubbed off on at
least one former member of his orchestra. Shulah Oliver is
the leader for the first two items and a few months ago I heard
give a stunning account of the Stanford Violin Concerto of
such passionate advocacy that one could believe that she’d
been playing it all her life. I suspect that the YMSO had something
to do with that. This disk is more than just a reminder of a
couple of fine concerts, it’s a series of performances
in their own right and should be judged as such. Therefore
I welcome this disk with much pleasure.