Sutton A Fist Full of Fives (2016)
Mozart Violin Concerto no.5 in A major K219 ‘Turkish’ (1775)
Skalkottas Five Greek Dances (1931-6, arr. 1936)
Beethoven Symphony no.5 in C minor Op.67 (1804-8)
Irène Duval (violin), CBSO Youth Orchestra / Michael Seal
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire
Saturday 23 July 2022
Written by Richard Whitehouse
It may be the end of the main season, but that is no reason why the CBSO Youth Orchestra should not have had a concert scheduled for mid-July, with this judiciously contrasted and well-balanced programme assuredly playing to the collective strengths of its present line-up.
Although three of the works had a numerical connection with ‘five’, only the opening piece featured that number in its title. Written for an event featuring Beethoven’s Fifth and scored for similar forces, A Fist Full of Fives finds Adrian Sutton essaying a concert-opener whose interplay of vigorous (even a little martial) and more lyrical ideas evokes a mid-20th century American music evoking Piston or early Carter. Fluent and appealing if far from memorable, it duly put the orchestra through its paces to a degree which the CBSOYO met with alacrity.
Rather more memorable was the Five Greek Dances by Skalkottas which opened the second half. Admittedly the programme note led one to expect a selection from the overall 36 in the versions for full orchestra, rather than the present selection – from a set of seven – for strings. Yet the distinctive character of each dance is hardly diminished in these arrangements by the composer (a proficient violinist), and Michael Seal secured notably characterful playing in a sequence that proceeded from the swaggering Epirotikos, through the stealthy interplay of Kretikos and the bracingly astringent Tsamikos, to the gentle pathos of Arkadikos then the dashing Kleftikos. Fifty years after the CBSO’s world premiere of his First Symphonic Suite, it was good to hear these likely successors tackling Skalkottas with evident enjoyment.
In between those two pieces, Irène Duval gave Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto – not exactly underplayed these days, but worth hearing when rendered with such commitment. Not least an opening Allegro whose aperto marking (rightly) encouraged a deftness of phrasing that carried through to the closing bars. The Adagio was ingratiating without any hint of cloying, then the outer sections of the Rondeau an insouciance for which the lively Turkish music at its centre provided a bracing foil. The cadenzas (Duval’s own?) proved unfailingly apposite.
Closing the concert, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony made a suitably unequivocal impression – not least an opening movement whose rhythmic trenchancy and purposeful rhetoric carried through to a forceful if never hectoring coda. Neither was there any hint of false grandeur in the Andante, its ruminative theme yielding subtlety and not a little humour as it wended its methodical yet never predictable course. Ensemble was a little ragged near the outset of the scherzo, but the transition into the finale had a simmering expectancy that made the latter’s blazing onset more visceral. This music’s familiarity tends to detract from its innovation of form and orchestration, but Seal pointed up such aspects in a reading that never risked losing focus as it headed to a coda whose reiterations of the home key made for a triumphal QED.
A worthwhile programme, then, with performances to match and exactly the sort of concert needed to inject needed impetus into the indolence of summer. The CBSOYO makes its first appearance next season with a programme of Verdi, Bruch and Lutosławski on October 30th.