By John Rushby-Smith

When a youth orchestra comes under the baton of a conductor of international standing such as Carlo Rizzi, one supposes the players will benefit from the wisdom and attention to detail such a figure can bring. That the members of the National Youth Orchestra of Wales are highly capable showed from the word go in the work that came off best: Judith Bingham’s intriguing Celticity. Receiving its English premiere, it portrayed the Celtic heritage by depicting the forging of metallic artefacts, engagements in mythical battles and the ever-present might of the sea, in a powerful melding of orchestral sonorities.

Maybe this was where all the preparatory effort had been spent, for what followed was a hard-driven, coarse performance of Beethoven’s Fifth that left little room for the subtleties of balance and phrasing. In a bizarre bit of programming it was followed by Gershwin’s An American in Paris, a popular romp that seemed uncomfortably out of context here, and again the treatment was heavy-handed. The concert ended with Ravel’s second suite from Daphnis & Chloë. The orchestra’s virtuosity was never in question, but this immensely subtle work needs much greater attention to detail than it received here. The dawn awakening of the opening needs to be played pianissimo. It wasn’t, and this meant that many of the delicate colours of Ravel’s palette were obscured. By the time we approached the climax of the whirling dance that ends the work things had already become so loud that all that remained at Rizzi’s command was to swamp the cathedral’s acoustics in a welter of percussion.