The Rite of Spring suits youth orchestras and Pierre Boulez and Simon Rattle have given memorable performances of it with the NYO of GB. The Guildhall Symphony Orchestra followed suit under Takuo Yuasa in a performance that was devoid of a single moment of routine playing.
It was an impressive sight to see one-hundred-and-twenty students tightly packed on the Barbican Hall stage under the avuncular presence of Yuasa, who chose more cautious speeds than usual for some passages. He also took time to ensure that cues were clear. More importantly, he knew when to let the musicians off the leash and indulge their exuberance. Rhythms were pounded out with power as well as precision and although the overall sound was occasionally rough and a trifle dense at times there was an infectious energy about the performance, not that subtlety was lacking, and the end of the work had an edge-of-seat seat quality that provided visceral excitement, leaving the distinct feeling that the Guildhall School’s young players had slain one of the legendary big beasts of the orchestral repertoire.Mahler’s Fourth Symphony calls for a different set of musical values, and there were numerous changes of personnel for this glorious marriage of sophisticated nostalgia and almost child-like sense of wonder, here notable for its warm blend and fine solos. Yuasa is an expressive conductor who is very precise rhythmically and with a purposeful sense of forward motion, if not always reconciled. The character of each movement was delineated without exaggeration and with affection and vitality. The first movement had a playful quality that verged on the impish, and Death’s violin solo, played with considerable style by Juliette Roos, added a nightmarish quality to the second. The beginning of the Adagio had the cellos richly taking the lead but a firmer sense of line throughout from the conductor might have been beneficial although a commendable weight of string tone caught the movement’s darkening clouds. For the catalogue of Heavenly delights Finale Regina Freire was placed at the back of stage which didn’t help with audibility but her silvery soprano and ringing top notes came through with authority. Yuasa’s accompaniment was vigorous and he held the work’s close and descent into silence together with impressive control.