A big ask for St Albans Symphony Orchestra but Bjorn pulls them through

JUST one word sums up St Albans Symphony Orchestra’s first concert under its new conductor Bjorn Bantock – and that is Big.

The concert at St Saviour’s in St Albans on Saturday had a huge programme of big works and to cap it all it attracted one of the biggest audiences I have ever seen at one of the orchestra’s concerts in the church.

A challenging programme, starting with Smetana’s delightful Vltava from his Ma Vlast suite and continuing through Prokofiev’s second Romeo and Juliet Suite to Debussy’s Apr�s-midi d’un faune before ending with Dvorak’s tremendous New World Symphony, was mouth-watering and, to a large extent, the orchestra and Bjorn Bantock did not let the audience down.

Smetana’s Vltava, full of shimmering strings and contrasting moods, was an ideal start to the concert and showed that the orchestra was in good form after the summer break. Its performance of the work was good, clean and emphatic.

Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet suite is a bigger challenge and Bjorn Bantock’s clean style of conducting must have been a great help to the orchestra in some of the trickier moments.

Overall the suite demonstrated that the orchestra was well balanced and strong, although there were one of two tricky moments in this exceptionally difficult piece.

Starting the second half, Debussy’s prelude L’apr�s-midi d’un faune gave an opportunity for flautist Hattie Webster to demonstrate her delightful skill in the wonderful opening moments. Although the orchestra achieved an acceptable standard of performance there were one or two issues of timing in what is an extremely “laid-back” and languorous piece of music.

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However Dvorak’s ever-popular New World Symphony demonstrated just how well the orchestra can perform and in particular it was a triumph for cor anglais player Karen Mason who gave a stunning solo performance in the enchanting second movement.

If the orchestra and Bjorn Bantock, who is based in St Albans, were setting out to demonstrate their intentions for the future then regular followers can expect some real musical fireworks to come – and hopefully some of the small but annoying ongoing problems the orchestra suffers from will soon be eliminated.