It doesn’t come much better than this – first a CBSO Youth Orchestra in dazzling form with Bruckner, Bartók and Berg, then just four days later the equally impressive CBSO Youth Chorus in a French programme.
Duruflé’s ‘Requiem’ was a challenging choice for these young singers, but one they rose to and accomplished with considerable aplomb. In fact, hearing this lovely work sung with such tonal openness and clarity of utterance made it sound almost newly minted.
It was certainly not a typical ‘youth choir’ performance, but an often beautiful one – the Agnus Dei, Domine Jesu Christe (Benedict Nelson the fine baritone soloist) and ascending-to-heaven In Paradisum were particularly memorable – with, in the Sanctus and ‘Dies illa, dies irae,’ moments of thrilling drama. And mezzo Karen Cargill (with cellist Ulrich Heinen) gave us a Pie Jesu as gorgeous and sensual as a love duet.
Simon Halsey was at the helm – and what a sympathetic, empowering conductor he has become – drawing from the CBSO playing of luminous subtlety and refinement. (But why not credit the important, and excellent, organist Stephen Farr with the soloists?)
Among the orchestral and choral miniatures that occupied the first half (compared to the Duruflé they were of little consequence, though decently executed) were Ravel’s ‘Introduction and Allegro’ and Debussy’s ‘Danse Sacrée et Danse Profane’.
As a 40th anniversary showcase for the CBSO’s distinguished harpist, Robert Johnston, these really were gold-plated little masterpieces, played with understated brilliance by Johnston (his colleagues’ support showed a warmth and affection that were almost palpable) and so ravishingly crafted as to become totally hypnotic and quite magical.