NYOS Junior Orchestra

RSNO Centre, Glasgow

Keith Bruce, four stars

WHETHER or not any of them pursue a career in music, the young talents of the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland’s Junior Orchestra have had a fine role model for what that can be in their conductor Holly Mathieson, whose last hurrah Friday’s concert was.

Her distinctive podium technique certainly suited her young charges, a less-than-ideally balanced cohort (all those violins and so few violas!) producing a remarkably coherent ensemble sound. For the most part that was what the programme was designed to demonstrate, and for most of the time that is what it did.

The biggest (longest) challenge was Janacek’s Suite from The Cunning Little Vixen, in which the intonation tasks presented to the strings were generally well-met and wind soloists in particular excelled. Flute and clarinet had also been on top form in the Grieg opener of Morning from Peer Gynt, and those may well have been different players as lead duties were shared around.

It was followed by the UK premiere of Anthony Ritchie’s single-movement double bass concerto, Whalesong, with NYOS alumnus Ben Burley as soloist. Mathieson’s fellow New Zealander (and composition teacher) drew on field recordings for what is a highly evocative piece, superbly played by the youngsters. In the programme it was also cleverly paralleled, after the Janacek, by the soundtrack-like The Blue Planet by American Peggy Stuart Coolidge, written in 1971 and adopted as its theme by the World Wildlife Fund.

I think I’d have preferred the early evening to end there, to be honest, although it was easy to see why Hamish MacCunn’s Scottish orchestra warhorse The Land of the Mountain and the Flood was added. The lovely swell the orchestra had achieved for “Morning” was sadly not repeated here, in a piece that presents difficulties of dynamics and timing all of its own. Unlike everything else we had heard, this old cheese had a few holes.