National Youth Orchestra/Noseda, Barbican, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

A concert platform crammed with enthusiastic teenage talent untainted as yet by professional cynicism or routine is always promise of a vivacious evening. And one saw the logic of this National Youth Orchestra programme under the baton of Gianandrea Noseda: first show off the strings, then the winds, and finally put them together.

All the same, there were moments when one questioned the NYO's inveterate policy of fielding up to 160 players - almost twice the strength of the average symphony orchestra - in standard repertoire.

Tchaikovsky, for instance, can never have envisaged his elegant Serenade in C major for string orchestra, Op 48, tackled by almost 90 players, and there were places in the opening movement when the skittering accompaniment patterns came over less than crisply.

Yet, somehow, Noseda, virtually dancing the second movement waltz, managed to coax phrasing of real lightness and charm from the violins, while one was glad to have heard the breathtaking hush of this vast ensemble at the opening of the slow movement.

Stravinsky's Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments (1924) proved far more problematic, being scored for an exact line-up of winds plus timpani and double basses. Doubling and trebling the wind lines meant Georgian pianist Alexander Korsantya had to bang the keyboard frantically to be heard. The work is something of the Ugly Duckling of Stravinsky's neo-Bach period. Here it often sounded monstrous.

Yet Berlioz would surely have rejoiced to see 160 players preparing to tackle his revolutionary Symphonie fantastique. Here, one noted a discreet grading of the forces, so that the full complement was only heard in tuttis, with solos reserved for single players - the duet for cor anglais and oboe at the start of the "Scene in the Country" adagio was particularly affecting.

But Noseda's command of the long phrase, so vital in Berlioz, coupled with the players' relish for the work's teemingly novel colours was electrifying. The audience erupted with all the astonishment that the original hearers must have felt at the premiere in 1830 with the timpani wildly pounded by the composer himself.

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