Listeners may be surprised that such a finely polished and deeply passionate account of Vaughan Williams' A London Symphony could come from a youth orchestra. Led by the expert and experienced Owain Arwel Hughes, the National Youth Orchestra of Wales plays with the kind of dedication big-league orchestras so often lack, and it shows in every bar of the performance.
There's nobility here, as well as wit, power, sensuality, and even a touch of the sublime. Except for a few small slips, there's nothing to indicate the not-yet-professional status of the orchestra. The ensemble is tight, the sonorities balanced, the solo playing has plenty of character, and the rhythms and tempos are beautifully coordinated. Much of the credit for the success goes to Hughes. His ability to keep the players focused is key to their cohesion, but more importantly, his understanding of the piece makes the interpretation wholly convincing. Coupled with a boisterous performance of Welsh composer William Mathias' Celtic Dances, this performance of the Vaughan Williams will not replace John Barbirolli's classic 1965 account with the London Symphony Orchestra, but it should surely be heard by anyone who likes the piece or the composer. Divine Arts' digital sound is a bit distant, but still clear and warm with a real sense of place and time.