According to Hungarian folk tradition, any story told after sneezing must be true. Zoltán Kodály prefaced his Háry János suite – about an old soldier whose tales of defeating Napoleon single-handed are prone to some exaggeration – with a huge orchestral convulsion. In the hands of the 170-strong National Youth Orchestra, that's a very loud sneeze indeed.
Kodály's suite provided the connecting thread of a programme dedicated to the special relationship between classical music and folksong. The anthology of short pieces selected by conductor Charles Hazlewood was ambitious enough, but the masterstroke was to invite members of the group Bellowhead to sit in, and have Northumbrian pipe virtuoso Kathryn Tickell coach the band in a new composition.
Tickell's main contribution was to persuade the orchestra to loosen up. Though she had never scored a work on this scale before, the transparency she achieved in her Northumbrian Fantasia was quite remarkable; and when the strings reverted to short, shuffle strokes on the delirious concluding reel, the difference between violin-playing and folk-fiddling became manifest.
Soprano Ailish Tynan made a selection of Canteloube's Songs of the Auvergne sound coquettishly funny; and Ed Cervenka supplied the mysterious, thrumming tone of the cimbalom (a Hungarian form of hammered dulcimer) called upon by Kodály. Sadly, the Mexican butterfly cocoons required for Carlos Chávez's Sinfonía India were not available, though the percussionists achieved similar results with a Pringles tube.
But the true highlight was Patrick Nunn's orchestration of traditional jigs and shanties sourced by Bellowhead. The players seized on the call-and-response structure; by the end Hazlewood had become a mere spectator as this fearless young band jumped to their feet to trade improvised licks.
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