Thursday, March 13, 2014

St Albans Symphony Orchestra concert

13 March 2014

I've played 'An Alpine Symphony' by Richard Strauss twice - in a workshop day with the Northampton Symphony Orchestra and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in 2000 and last year in a workshop in Bedford (reviewed here in October 2013) but I've never seen the piece performed. This is hardly surprising, given the gargantuan forces the symphony requires. It's an incredibly ambitious undertaking for any orchestra, so I was intrigued to see how the St Albans Symphony Orchestra would cope with the challenge in St Albans Abbey last Saturday. The concert opened with 'From the Apocalypse' - a dramatic piece based on 'The Book of Revelation' - by Anatoly Liadov, a Russian composer who was a pupil of Rimsky-Korsakov. We were then treated to a stunning performance of Mendelssohn's 'Violin Concerto' by the exciting young violinist Charlotte Scott, who brought a mixture of passion and delicacy to the concerto. In the loudest passages she arched her back and leaned her head back in the manner of the lead guitarist in a rock band with one foot on the amp. And in the fiendishly difficult quiet waterfalls of notes she bent forward over her violin in intense concentration, her bow bouncing across the strings in perfect metronomic rhythm. The second half of the concert saw the stage packed with extra players for ' An Alpine Symphony'. Merely scaling Strauss's mountain of a symphony and descending again safely without having to stop and restart would represent a considerable achievement. This was a very impressive performance which built to several jaw-dropping climaxes at which it must have been amazing to be conductor Bjorn Bantock, with both arms aloft, unleashing an avalanche of sound. I naturally took a particular interest in the orchestra's horn section and I was very impressed by the principal horn player, Stephen Orriss, who played the impossibly high solo lines wonderful, even towards the end of this  mammoth work.

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