Review: NYOW & Catrin Finch - Hedd Wyn @ SDH
The National Youth Orchestra of Wales should be very proud. They can happily declare they are the first national youth orchestra in the world. Wales may be the land of song, but we are most certainly the land of great musicians as well. This blockbuster concert was not to be missed. Wagner and Rachmaninov as standard. Former Royal Harpist Catrin Finch, had written a new concerto and a work by a new emerging composer; both were highly alluring.
To commence the evening, conductor Grant Llewellyn started us off with the prelude to act three to Wagner’s opera Lohengrin. Those of you who read my articles, may remember my absolute joy at hearing the whole opera live a few months back. This rousing prelude heralds the marriage of Lohengrin and Elsa. Shortly after the prelude you would go on to hear The Bridal Chorus or as it is more famously known Here Comes The Bride.
The prelude to act one of Lohengrin, which opened the second part of the concert, is the complete opposite. Solemn, beguiling and very epic, it’s the stuff of the utmost beauty and tenderness. The violins have the limelight for the start and finish in their ecstatic delivery. A joy to hear again and a firm reminder of the great staging by WNO.
Joseph Davies’ Byzantium is inspired by W B Yates' poem of the same name. Although Davies doesn’t want the name to be the face value of the work, it evoked exotic sounds and perhaps could even be described as the Turkish Rite Of Spring. Its blazing soundscape made me wonder if the audience, made up of players' parents and music lovers, would actually enjoy it. I sure did and would love to hear this again.
Catrin Finch’s newly written harp concerto was certainly the main event. Entitled Hedd Wyn, it takes its name for Ellis Humphrey Evans, a soldier who fought in the First World War. He could be described as the Welsh equivalent of Wilfred Owen, both mighty war poets who both were snatched away by death far too young. Translated as White Peace, Wyn would win as the bard of the Eisteddfod, that year in Birkenhead. No one claimed his position that year. He had died in the battlefields of France six weeks earlier. The chair carved for the occasion lay empty and still. Draped with a black sheet it has been known ever since as the Black Chair of Birkenhead.
This is sad stuff and can also be looked up in the film Hedd Wyn - the first Welsh language film to be nominated for an Oscar I might add. All this information is listed in the programme, yet nothing is said about Finch’s composition itself. With her traditional harp, she paired it with a smaller electronic harp. The sounds that came out of the latter at the start of the work put me in a trance. I really wanted more of it. The outstanding lushness and new-age music from the electronic version, as we wouldn’t hear from it again. She added the use of whistles at one point and even the whole orchestra stamp their feet on the floor in unison. Evan’s poetry was played over the score (the reader is not listed), but feels second place with the music drawing forth its melodic and militaristic momentum. This was a grand work and I do hope Finch will write more. Bravo Catrin, Bravo.
I would once again hear even more Rachmaninov, this time with his Symphonic Dances. I just couldn’t get into this piece. It had lovely little intricate moments that quickly left and went nowhere. This is not the Rach people will know as well as the piano works. He couldn’t resist the temptation to even put a piano in this work, such is its importance to his canon. I must be having an overdose of Rach's music.
A further Welsh encore (the name of the piece I missed by Grant). Catrin came out once more with her sublime electric harp, which at first had not been amplified. But when it did come on the speakers, it was once again glorious.
Photo Credit: @CatrinFinch