National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
Leeds Town Hall
By Geoffrey Mogridge
This year's incarnation of the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain has been rehearsed and conducted for spring concerts in Leeds and London by Mexican maestro Carlos Miguel Prieto. Naturally, the programme showcased music of the conductor's homeland.
The score of Silvestre Revueltas' Suite for the 1939 film The Night of the Mayas urges the orchestra to play 'con violencia' - with violence. An orchestra of 164 - including a 28-piece brass section exhorted to 'howl like the freed King Kong' - produced an awesome decibel-level in the spacious acoustic of Leeds Town Hall. These brilliant young musicians clearly relished the myriad colours and aggressive rhythms of Revueltas' exotic film music.
All sections were slimmed down for the next piece: 17 year-old Nottingham born Sheku Kanneh-Mason won the 2016 BBC Young Musician Competition performing the Cello Concerto No 1 of Dmitri Shostakovich - an explosive and fevered work written in 1959 for that doyen of cellists Mstislav Rostropovich. Kanneh-Mason's insightful performance held the Town Hall audience in thrall. He seemed to find every nuance of emotion in the virtuosic solo part.
Shostakovich's famous Fifth Symphony required the full orchestra including 90 strings; plus grand piano, celeste, 4 harps and a battery of percussion. Prieto presided over a performance characterised by the opulent string tone, snarling brass and piquant woodwind. The Orchestra stunningly captured the sinister grandeur of this symphony as well as the desolation, sarcasm and torment embedded within so much of the music.
However, maestro Prieto in a heartfelt address to the clamouring audience said that such an amazing concert needed a happy ending. The exuberant Mexican folk dance rhythms of Jose Pablo Moncayo's Huapango were played as a roof-raising encore.