Following Prom 17’s exploration of music from the 1930s, Prom 28 tackled the 1940s in an adventurous and rewarding programme of three pieces, played by the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain under Carlos Miguel Prieto. It’s always a pleasure to hear this orchestra, packed with the leading players of the future, and there was plenty of talent on display throughout the concert.

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Carlos Miguel Prieto and the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
© BBC Proms | Mark Allan

We started with Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis of Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, originally proposed as an arrangement of some of Weber’s work for a new ballet. Hindemith took themes from, among other compositions, some incidental music that Weber had written for Gozzi’s play Turandot and turned the abortive ballet into a twenty minute piece in four movements. The first, from a Weber piano duet, was the NYO’s only weak point of the evening, where balance between the sections seemed off kilter, the strings a little soupy and the brass a touch ragged. There was much to enjoy in the charming woodwind contributions though, and with the commencement of the second movement – the “Turandot scherzo” – the sound seemed to settle, the strings sharper and more defined. The flute solo that launches the scherzo contains so much – enigma, the exotic, power – and the flautist remains under constant pressure throughout the movement. It was Sofía Patterson-Guitiérrez who rose to this challenge and did so magnificently, her playing at a level that belied her age. The whole section took the movement with verve, though, and there was plenty of swagger too in the brass, punching through the string chatter, and full of tonal richness for the finale “Marsch”.

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The National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain
© BBC Proms | Mark Allan

By coincidence with the appearance of Gozzi’s Turandot, Masabane Cecilia Rangwanasha recently drew praise for her Liù at the Royal Opera House in Puccini’s operatic treatment of the play. Rangwanasha joined Prieto on stage to perform Strauss’ Vier letzte Lieder in an interpretation of serene beauty. None of the four songs was rushed; Prieto took a limpid approach which savoured detail and heightened the sense of life’s journey ending.  Rangwanasha’s soprano is unquestionably a big instrument, but she wielded it with sensitivity, her creamy higher register absolutely secure and each note audible, no mean feat in the Royal Albert Hall. Would that we might have heard this in a smaller hall! Diction was clear, but there wasn’t that profundity of sense of meaning in this performance that can elevate these songs. Again, this may have been a necessary sacrifice given the acoustic, and the crucial beauty of sound was there. The encore, an arrangement of He’s got the whole world in his hands, with vocal contributions from the orchestra, demonstrated Rangwanasha’s technical abilities. For this morose soul, it felt marginally gimmicky, but there was a terrific response from the audience.

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Carlos Miguel Prieto
© BBC Proms | Mark Allan

Dubbed by Koussevitzky as “the greatest American symphony ever written”, Copland’s Symphony no. 3 is a beast of a work with a scale and grandeur to it that can be obtrusive. Prieto’s interpretation was convincing, with a beguiling glow in the first movement, a sense of youth and green shoots, optimism and hope leaping from the musicians. The strings were warm, the brass a touch rough, but proud. It’s the fourth movement that stands out, though, with Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man proudly at its heart. With the endless brass volleys and triumphalism, the NYO caught the spirit of the piece, a stirring of the soul, an incitement to salute the flag, the Pax Americana distilled into a fifteen minute movement. It’s brash, but it works and Prieto’s sense of pulse (and some enthusiastic timpani) set the heart racing. A compelling interpretation and a successful evening for these young musicians.

***11