Review: York Symphony Orchestra, Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York, June 30

AFTER 12 excellent years under the direction of Alasdair Jamieson, who is now its president, York Symphony Orchestra is finding its feet again under its latest conductor, Edward Venn.

On a pleasantly warm evening, YSO’s midsummer concert provided a Berlioz overture and a Dvořák symphony, framing Prokofiev’s melodrama Peter & The Wolf.

Venn opened with the stand-alone concert overture King Lear, a curiously stop-start affair that demands an orchestra’s maximum concentration amid multiple tempo changes. Berlioz had just been ditched by his girlfriend when he wrote it and Venn was not quite able to dispel its tendency to sound disjointed. No fault of the cellos and basses who gave its opening plenty of welly.

Continuity is also the problem in Peter & The Wolf. Its various orchestral cameos need to press on immediately the narrative fragments end. Despite outstanding contributions from clarinet (as the cat) and bassoon (as the grandfather), a sleek wolf from the three horns, and enthusiastic hunters from the two drummers, the tale faded in and out of focus. But Adam Tomlinson, nicely amplified, was a strong story-teller.

Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony was altogether more cohesive. Venn’s tempos in the first two movements were on the cautious side. But the Allegretto was delightfully spirited and there was a nice balance of mystery and momentum in the finale, with cellos once again to the fore. Venn is clearly getting this orchestra into the groove.

Martin Dreyer