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BBC National Orchestra Of Wales
Nothing on this side of the Atlantic compares with the BBC's plethora of excellent orchestras: BBC Symphony, BBC Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Symphony, BBC Concert Orchestra and -- now on its first U.S. tour -- the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. On Sunday at George Mason University's Center for the Arts, the Welsh orchestra, conducted by Thierry Fischer, was outstanding from the downbeat.
This is a very evenly balanced group, with tremendous clarity of individual voices -- a happy surprise in Strauss's "Don Juan," whose brief solos for violin, trumpet and flute often get lost in the orchestral lushness. Not so here: Fischer's careful control and cues balanced the sections precisely -- indeed, it was only when Strauss required the horns to be front and center that their high quality became apparent.
Reduced to appropriate classical-era size, the orchestra exhibited gentility and a light touch in Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21, with Llyr Williams as soloist. The first movement was slightly mismatched, as Williams used rubato when playing by himself, accepting the orchestra's even pace and delicacy only in ensemble. The slow movement, one of Mozart's loveliest, was smoother, as was the fleet-footed finale.
The orchestra brought unusual clarity to Brahms's Symphony No. 2, which can sound muddy in lesser performances. Fischer took the first-movement exposition repeat, allowing the symphony its full expansiveness. Every section got its due: cellos and basses in the second movement, winds in the third and brass in the finale. And then a rousing encore (one of Alun Hoddinott's "Welsh Dances") turned Fairfax, for a moment, into Wales.
-- Mark J. Estren