Music review: Festival 2018: Glasgow Meets Berlin

FESTIVAL 2018, the cultural strand of the Glasgow/Berlin European Championships, was focused in George Square on Tuesday evening, where live outdoor performances by the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland Symphony Orchestra and opera students from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) were interspersed with live big screen relays showing the Brandenburger Sinfoniker performing in Berlin's Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, introduced by German presenter Frederike Westerhaus.

Soprano Emma Mockett was one of the budding young stars of the RCS Opera School who added to the dynamic feel of the whole show. Picture: John Devlin

George Square, Glasgow ***

It was hard not to view the respective performances and audiences as chalk and cheese. Over in Berlin, the white-tie-and-tailed Brandenburger orchestra, the docile, formally-seated audience, and the distinctly central European classical programme under the baton of Errico Fresis, seemed markedly staid. In Glasgow, by contrast, we had the tartan-tied youth of NYOS, its dapper conductor Paul Daniel, ebullient presenters Jamie MacDougall and RCS drama student Rebecca Wilkie, and toe-tapping music that ranged from Verdi operatic hits to folk music from young traditional combo Eriska, and a standing audience who came and went as they pleased, drinks in hand.

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So, while Berlin’s safety-first performances of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, Brahms and Bartok dances and Ravel songs with soloist Israel Martins dos Reis weren’t exactly the height of toe-tapping excitement (the low speaker volume gave them an undernourished muzak effect), NYOS’s live presence, which was well-amplified and driven by more party-style repertoire, stole the show.

There was dynamic thrust from the word go, and a performance of Bernstein’s Candide overture that sizzled with pizazz. Then came the outstanding talent from the RCS Opera School, and a series of opera solos and ensembles that gave the punters the thrill they were after.

Individually, these budding young stars engaged and entranced us. Mezzo soprano Rebecca Afonwy-Jones delivered Gershwin’s immortal Summertime with seductive charm; sturdy baritone Mark Nathan brought resounding gravitas to Bizet’s Toreador’s Song; soprano Emma Mockett made an old favourite, Puccini’s O mio babbino caro, her own; and David Lynn, an impressively glowing operatic tenor, negotiated Donizetti’s Ah, mes amis with radiant ease.

But the real lustre arrived in the ensembles: the famous male duet from Pearl Fishers; the female Flower Duet from Lakmé; and a spine tingling Verdi quartet from Rigoletto. Finally, MacDougall himself brought the night to a heart-warming close with opulent version of Loch Lomond.

If anything let the Scottish side down, it was the messily produced live camera work. In that area, the ever-efficient Germans had the upper hand.