The Orchestra Giovanile Luigi Cherubini isn’t exactly your typical youth orchestra. The age limit is 30 and the players are hand-picked from the best that Italy has to offer by a committee chaired by founder Riccardo Muti. The orchestra has been a regular fixture at the Ravenna Festival for years; last night saw them celebrating Beethoven’s 250th anniversary under the baton – or, to be precise, the toothpick – of a somewhat grizzly and benign looking Valery Gergiev. Under an indigo twilight sky in the imposing surroundings of the Rocca Brancaleone, Ravenna’s 15th century castle, audience members took their seats in carefully spaced out rows; the musicians were arrayed in a formation that looked normal apart from a notable absence of sharing of music stands between pairs of players.

Valery Gergiev
© Zani Casadio

This was one of the first major concerts since lockdown, but if the importance of the occasion weighed on the orchestra’s minds, they didn’t show it, launching into Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no. 3 with verve, faces firmly concentrated on their conductor. The sound was very much a classical one: neat, elegant and measured.

“Measured” isn’t a word we’ve often applied to Beatrice Rana (who, at 27, would comfortably meet the age target for the orchestra), whose recitals are usually firework-laden affairs. But not so here: this was a rather thoughtful Rana focused on elegance and refinement rather than any high Romantic histrionics. Her playing was distinguished by lightness of articulation, evenness of legato and perfect togetherness with the orchestra.  Only in the cadenza did we see flashes of the ebullience that we’ve thought of as Rana’s norm. The slow movement introduction was particularly lovely, and all in all, this was a very classical reading of the concerto. The structure was made clear both on the overall scale of the piece and of individual phrases, both from soloist and individual instrumentalists, each variation clearly distinguished to show itself both as an entity in itself and as a component of the whole. Rana’s Bach encore was a treat, combining vivacity with precision.

Beatrice Rana
© Zani Casadio

I have reservations about the broadcast engineering: you’ll see better during this lockdown period. I can imagine that the outdoor conditions can’t have been easy (I’ve never seen so many clothes pegs employed on an orchestral stage), but the choice of camera angles was limited, the piano was a bit quiet compared to the orchestra and there were several occasions where clunks or the rustle of pages intruded into the sound.

Gergiev’s reading of the Pastoral Symphony continued the emphasis on the classical in Beethoven: in each movement, the music often returns to its central theme and each return was carefully signposted. Individual woodwind solos were models of clarity – I particularly noted the oboe. Horns blended gently into the overall sound, never overpowering, always present. Heavily accented cello and bass motifs underpinned the dance rhythms, with a little half-smile on Gergiev’s face whenever some particular phrase hit exactly the timing he was hoping for. The brook babbled, the clarinet cuckoo called and an impressive timpani performance provided power for the storm. In the last movement, bowed and pizzicato strings contrasted nicely.

Stage with the Rocca Brancaleone in the background
© Zani Casadio

This wasn’t a revelatory or high octane reading of the Pastorale, but none the less a sweet delight for a summer evening. Sitting at a video screen in London, with live concerts apparently a distant prospect, it brought joy to the heart.

This performance was reviewed from the video live stream.