Review: Asian Youth Orchestra's 25th anniversary concert - power and dash
The Asian Youth Orchestra have been rehearsing together since mid-July for their tour of Asian cities and they sounded strong and united in works by Bach, Shostakovich and Mahler. Only the occasional tentative tone or stiff phrasing hinted at the members' youth.
The Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, composed by Bach for organ solo and arranged for orchestra by Leopold Stokowski, is a romp, fun to play and fun to hear, but it's not in the top rank of compositions.
Conductor James Judd led the group through a well-shaped performance with bold power and fluid tempo changes. The strings dashed dexterously through their parts, the flute and harp were nicely coordinated and the low brass was rich and dense.
The Shostakovich Cello Concerto No 1 opened with a gruff group of four notes, setting the mood and the motif for the piece. Cellist Steven Isserlis played the choppy, repetitive phrases with percussive energy. The horn player traversed a crag-leaping solo with confidence, and later topped this with a noble lyrical solo.
The second movement started with eerie non-vibrato cello and faraway viola lines. Shostakovich returned to the keynote from unexpected directions, like an opponent conceding an argument. Isserlis led us through the cadenza soliloquy with compelling inner concentration.
The piece finished with square, heavy rhythms and shrill piccolo. Isserlis is in the "noisy" school of cellists, not afraid of a few extraneous scrapes, which was effective overall for this piece.
Mahler's Symphony No 4 is another grand showpiece for orchestra. It started with a bright jangle of sleigh bells and flutes. The woodwinds were hearty and colourful in "village band" music. The slides were graceful except one long exposed one that went slightly off the rails. The second violin and viola sections both played with vibrant expression.
Time stood still in the third movement while 10 pizzicato basses supported heavenly notes from the viola and cellos.
Mamiko Sakaida, soprano soloist, at times captured the magic of the piece with her radiant voice, but the German diction was not quite satisfying and her low notes were sometimes obscured.
25th Anniversary Concert, Asian Youth Orchestra
City Hall Concert Hall, Reviewed: August 15