At the end of the concert, while on the coast below fireworks at a village patron saint's celebration went on exploding, the audience cheered and rose to their feet as the players of the European Union Youth Orchestra hugged each other – their typical post-concert ritual – aimed at discharging tension and strengthening their sense of belonging to the prestigious ensemble.

The EUYO and Gianandrea Noseda © Pino Izzo
The EUYO and Gianandrea Noseda
© Pino Izzo

Yet, the choice of combining Verdi arias and overtures with Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, although it complied with the operatic inclinations of conductor Gianandrea Noseda, at first sight had not appeared to make much sense, as it took away consistency from the programme. 

 The concert had got off to quite a good start, though, while the sun was setting in the sea, with excerpts from I masnadieri and Luisa Miller, both from Schiller, and Il corsaro from Byron: three operas, born in years when Verdi was full building up musical and dramatic maturity. Interestingly, the two themes in the overture of I masnadieri introduce Verdi's priorities as a dramatic author: political rebellion and kind-hearted female characters. The overture to Luisa Miller is musically interesting too, as the entire piece is based on a single theme which provides it with a concentrated intensity. In both overtures, Noseda drew from the EUYO wonderful, rich sounds, with warm and inspired solos and terrific ensemble playing.

Erika Grimaldi © Pino Izzo
Erika Grimaldi
© Pino Izzo
The arias were sung by Elena Grimaldi, one of the most talented sopranos in Italy today. In Amalia’s aria from I masnadieri, “Venerabile, o padre, è il tuo sembiante… Lo sguardo avea degli angeli”, she combined virtuoso singing with an intense expression of feelings.

In Luisa’s “Tu puniscimi, o Signore”, Grimaldi offered a more intimate picture, and provided passionate moments, as in Medora's aria “Egli non riede ancora... Non so le tetre immagini” from Il corsaro. Grimaldi rendered the three females’ heart-breaking melancholy and despair with limpid timbre and a delicate voice; she was determined not to lose concentration in an open air setting, where everything was potentially distracting to audience and performers.

After the intermission, the EUYO and Noseda closed the concert with the challenging Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, which requires masterful technique, along with rapidity and energy from the players. This was absorbing, brilliant orchestral playing, filled with dynamism, sharp focus and self-confidence.

After an impressive fanfare, the first movement’s funeral march was presented with a measured pace, mournful but not overly tragic. In it, Noseda remarkably balanced accuracy and emotion. The other movements were also passionate while keeping rationality; the performers presented good individualities, yet avoiding being too self-centred, and one could feel a sense of intimacy and affection within the orchestra.

In the famous Adagietto, Gianandrea Noseda and EUYO players made music of absolute sensitivity and liveliness; Noseda maintained keen eye contact with his players in turn, as he drove them to the Finale’s Allegro deciso and Allegro animato. The conductor never letting the tension slip in the long finale, the orchestra responding with vibrant playing.

EUYO’s members are all between 17-24, and they play with a vitality and commitment of which older ensembles would be envious. But it isn’t just youth’s energy; the players can count on a terrific technical prowess. Noseda’s ability was to marshal all of it for a Fifth Symphony that was overwhelmingly delightful.