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Review: National Children's Orchestra Under 12s at Birmingham Town Hall

Maggie Cotton reviews National Children's Orchestra Under 12s at Birmingham Town Hall

Cheerful Mike Purton took over as guest conductor for this concert at the 11th hour. Thankfully there was an obvious rapport with his young players with enthusiasm all round when the concert kicked off with Strauss’s lively Die Fledermaus overture after careful ritual tuning throughout. The Viennese waltz lilt settled eventually, but perhaps more daring contrasts of dynamics could have been risked, even with this huge orchestra.

Walton’s Crown Imperial March is always a winner: yes Coronation flag-waver, but one could imagine a splendid fly-past also. Beefy percussion, but in spite of three excellent players, the harps were disconcertingly inaudible.

Then to the darker side of history with Arnold’s haunting Peterloo Overture. Beginning with a beautifully balanced broad opening, solemn and stately from strings and poignant woodwind  but soon to disintegrate into battle formation. Distant marching percussion soon overwhelmed, with gutsy brass calling to conflict.

A true contrast with distant views over the horizon in Borodin’s haunting In the Steppes of Central Asia. Lovely cor anglais, but more care with general woodwind intonation would help.

Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra is a tour-de-force for any orchestra. Roger Clarkson’s narration was a bonus however for splendid playing from all sections of this passionate young orchestra, with excellent colourful solo passages from all departments. Marvellous pacing for the fugue – so tempting to rush towards the finale, but not here. Hair raising, earning thunderous applause. Can these musicians really be so impossibly young?

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