Proms European Union Youth Orchestra Royal Albert Hall

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The Independent Culture
The European Union Youth Orchestra is certainly young - and large. If it lacks character, that's because it scarcely has a chance to develop, since the 140 players are chosen each year, from over 4,000 candidates. In Saturday's concert they played as confidently as you would expect at the end of their summer tour, conducted by Sir Colin Davis.

Davis likes his orchestral sound big and plump, and in this splendid programme of three Romantic masterpieces, he certainly got it. But Richard Strauss's Don Juan found his conquests too much of a walkover, and his ardour was consequently reduced.

In Proms News on Radio 3 last weekend, one of the orchestra's members complained that he didn't like Elgar's Enigma Variations - it all went "up and down", he said. Which most music does, though given Sir Colin's torpid approach and slow tempi, you could understand the young man's impatience. The "Dorabella" variation did not so much flutter and stammer as whimper, as if the lady were crying herself to sleep.

Apparently, there was a problem with the Royal Albert Hall's organ, and in the finale an electronic instrument was substituted. It made a disgusting sound and was too loud. Even with the most sympathetic instrument, it spoils an otherwise perfect score.

In works we love, there is often something we wish were different. In Sibelius's Second Symphony, it's unfortunately a rather important theme - the heroic one the strings forge at the start of the finale. Yet there is a less gushing way of playing this movement than on Saturday, for Sir Colin wallowed as deeply as he could. And it's not as if Sibelius pulled a cheap gewgaw out of a bag, for the theme is prepared in the first movement. And that, written at the very beginning of the century, is one of the most original and amazing pieces in symphonic literature. At a time when musical language was getting ever more complex and rarefied, Sibelius restored the power of the simplest, boldest elements, such as diatonic scales and consonant intervals. The best Sibelius conductors have kept their distance from the rhetoric but made the most of the austerity, realising that the bones of the music need to show. On Saturday it seemed pampered and fleshy.

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