REVIEW: NYOW – BERNSTEIN’S CHICHESTER PSALMS @ ST DAVID’S HALL

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National Youth Orchestra & Choir of Wales – Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms 

St David’s Hall – Sunday 5th August 2018

The summer holidays are not the same without the annual concert from our National Youth Orchestra of Wales. 

Starting with an unscheduled performance of Richard Strauss’ Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments, was just the thing we needed to cool down in this awful heat we’ve been having. An intimate piece with some highly satisfying moments for the players, in almost pastoral evocations of grandeur. The few musicians on stage filled the hall with a delightful sense of harmony, resulting in an unexpected treat for listeners.

2018 sees the 100th birthday of the great American composers Leonard Bernstein. Here was the perfect partnership with the National Youth Choir of Wales, for his Chichester Psalms. This bolstering piece has an electric feel and at times is a great showpiece for both the orchestra and the choir. Sung in Hebrew, here lies a brilliantly Jewish composition (Bernstein had Jewish heritage) that is as creative as it is moving. The section for male soprano (sometime boy soprano) and the choir is a tear-inducing encounter, which is balm for the soul in a restless age of non-stop mania. The percussion also stands out here with Bernstein famously exuberant generosity to these players. A sure-fire hit and great to hear some Bernstein this year!

My warmest regards to the orchestra for playing Mahler’s 5th Symphony in this heat. The 70 minutes epic is intense enough without an unbearable sun testing us all. The monumental journey of this piece was played with gusto and a real sense of urgency to it. The waltz delighted us, the brass-blasted out very being and the Adagietto was played with stunning conviction. This famous moment for just the strings and harps is a tender demonstration of mood making, brought to life with a piercing vitality. More tears right here. The juxtaposition of joy and depression permeates all of Mahler’s work, though the ending is a rousing way to wrap up, the musician on bass drum not afraid to lose himself in that moment as well. 

Standing ovations all round. Conductor Carlo Rizzi, who had been superb throughout the concert may have been a little salty to those who had phones go off during the movements and people leaving the hall not so quietly, for even more moments of tension. His concluding speech was a relatable talk on the plight of young people today and just how important institutions like these were vital to society. There is work to be done today in musical education and there are many conversations around the topic.

We thank Maestro Rizzi for bringing this up as a stark reminder of the future we might all be plunged into. 

Rating: ****

Weeping Tudor Productions present Bernstein Bash! At St Edward’s Church, Cardiff on Saturday 1st December 2018. Join us for songs from West Side Story, Candide and other shows. Expect recital songs and also stimulating piano piece. Join us for the rumble! Book here.

Photo Credit: pugh.co.uk


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