If this was supposed to be a birthday party, the presents were all lousy and someone’s Dad started dancing. If I have ever heard the NYO, the 60th anniversary of whose founding this marked, ever play worse, I’d be surprised. If I ever hear a worse performance of Strauss’s Four Last Songs, I’d shoot myself.
The curtain raiser buoyed everyone; a razzle-dazzle piece of rabble-rousing postmodernism by James Simpson, 2006’s Young Musician Of The Year, which displayed a sinewy muscularity and a brash command of light and shade redolent of late Soviet music. It was executed with as much élan as Ravel’s Valses nobles et sentimentales, although one could already sense maestro Petrenko looking forward to supper. The anonymity of his pacing transmitted itself to his young charges, but they were simply perplexed with what he did to the Strauss, which resembled nothing more than a drunken cartographer’s sketching of Alpine contours. Beim Schlafengehen passed so slowly one could only fumble after some interpretative irony, and at one point I seriously thought the final song, Im Abendrot, had stopped. Nobody really seemed to care by then – ragged, half-hearted solo and ensemble- especially not with the characterless, mazily-intonated and sometimes scarcely in tune soprano of Gabriela Fontana upfront. Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring was noisy and rumbustious, but when wasn’t it? By this time it was hard to feel anything but feeling more than one year older. Less a celebration - more a wake.