National Youth Orchestra Of WalesAdrian Boult Hall
The longest-established such ensemble in the United Kingdom, the National Youth Orchestra of Wales has a lot going for it.
Its richly-endowed string section plays with impressive depth of tone, the woodwind know how to project, the brass are sturdy and confident, the percussion play with an elan beyond their years, and there is a pool of harpists every professional orchestra would die for.
But there are niggles: string intonation is occasionally wiry, with insecure ensemble; woodwind sometimes waver on the note; and no-one should be permitted to play warming-up exercises in public in the bar during the interval.
And it’s strange that strings and woodwind are multiplied, but brass and percussion remain as ordered.
This sense of discomfort also spreads to the musical direction. Owain Arwel Hughes has achieved great things with youth orchestras in the past (his Britten War Requiem with the Bedford Youth Orchestra at Symphony Hall many years ago lives in the memory), but what was he doing here, sanctioning a rendition from all eight double-basses of the “Frere Jacques” opening to the slow movement of Mahler’s First Symphony, when the composer clearly marked it as a solo?
And, in the same work, when Mahler crowns its climax by asking the horns to stand to increase their impact (never mind he also asks for them to add to their numbers), it seemed perverse to mask that impact by having them raise their music-stands as well.
Movements from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake were eloquently delivered (fabulous principal oboe), and the Prelude for Orchestra by Hughes’ father, Arwel Hughes, was a skilful display of that fine conductor’s aural memory, Sibelius to the fore. 3/5