LSO/Noseda/ Bostridge

Bar­bican Hall, Lon­don On BBC Ra­dio 3 on Fri­day

The Guardian - G2 - - Live Reviews - Erica Jeal

How­ever moved you are by Charles Hamil­ton Sor­ley’s po­etry, you can’t visit his grave; his body was lost in the mud of Loos, in France, in 1915. He was 20, only just older than the most se­nior mem­bers of the Na­tional Youth Brass Band of Great Bri­tain, which lent ex­tra poignancy to the per­for­mance of these 80-odd teenagers in All the Hills and Vales Along, James MacMil­lan’s new ora­to­rio. A more in­ti­mate ver­sion of the work, a first world war me­mo­rial, was given last month at MacMil­lan’s Ayrshire fes­ti­val the Cum­nock Tryst. This was the pre­miere of his grand­scale ver­sion, with the massed strings of the LSO con­ducted by Gianan­drea Noseda.

MacMil­lan has writ­ten a prac­ti­cal, per­formable piece, and all to the good: not ev­ery cho­ral so­ci­ety can muster Brit­ten’s War Re­quiem. The strings sup­port the tenor – here, as in Cum­nock, Ian Bostridge, res­o­nant and ur­gent, al­though on this oc­ca­sion stretched at the ex­tremes of pitch. Full brass power is saved for mo­ments of great­est ef­fect. The cho­ral lines, put across with con­vic­tion by the Lon­don Sym­phony Cho­rus, are singable, the style eas­ily di­gestible, the words set so as to be au­di­ble, even over the band – whose play­ing was first rate. But the rest­less­ness of the tenor line in the fi­nal move­ment, set against a cho­ral melody that flirts with both Bach’s Air on the G string and El­gar’s Nim­rod, threat­ens to dis­tract from the ex­tra­or­di­nary text. Per­haps Sor­ley was not in Wil­fred Owen’s league, but how many 20-year-olds in 1915 could have writ­ten such a ma­ture verse as To Ger­many, blend­ing re­al­ism and ide­al­ism in a vi­sion of a fu­ture peace?

Few com­posers have had to be so aware of the gulf be­tween the real and ideal worlds as Shostakovich, whose Sym­phony No 4 made for a heavy coun­ter­weight. Noseda drove the first move­ment hard, set­ting a pace for the string fugue that would undo a lesser or­ches­tra, but the sec­ond was al­most stub­bornly mea­sured. Notwith­stand­ing one or two episodes of real char­ac­ter, there was ul­ti­mately a sense of the work’s peaks and troughs be­ing flat­tened into rou­tine bril­liance.

Pre­miere fan­fare … the Na­tional Youth Brass Band

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