Caledonian treats

PUBLISHED: 12:20 10 January 2008 | UPDATED: 12:45 06 May 2010

FOR years the annual New Year s Day concert in St Albans has had a strong Viennese style. But this year St Albans Symphony Orchestra gave the event at St Albans Abbey a powerful Scottish theme — even though most of the music was written by people from oth

FOR years the annual New Year's Day concert in St Albans has had a strong Viennese style.

But this year St Albans Symphony Orchestra gave the event at St Albans Abbey a powerful Scottish theme - even though most of the music was written by people from other parts of Europe.

It opened with Mendelssohn's ever-popular Hebrides Overture which was particularly noteworthy for the fine clarinet duet near the end, played by Angela Crispe and Gillian Stansfield.

Berlioz's Intrada from Rob Roy followed, containing strong references to the Robert Burns song Scots Wha' Hae and a further European contribution to the Scottish theme was Claude Debussy's captivating orchestration of a Scottish March.

The only 100 per cent Scottish piece of the entire evening was Hamish MacCunn's The Land of the Mountain and the Flood. Still popular 120 years after its first performance, the work is captivating and the orchestra, on its best form, gave an inspired performance.

To open the second half, conductor James Ross headed for Italy and Verdi's ballet music from his opera Macbeth. Apart from its name, the music has no real Scottish connection but it is good to listen to and the orchestra gave an excellent account of itself.

Northampton-born composer Malcolm Arnold's Four Scottish Dances are always good to hear, particularly the serene third one which is in the style of a Hebridean song.

But the highpoint of the evening was undoubtedly Sir Peter Maxwell Davies' amazing, humorous and delightful Orkney Wedding.

The work opens with a sequence when the guest arrives through a storm. As the event continues the guests become more and more inebriated, as demonstrated by some fine trombone playing, and the whole thing ends with them tottering home in the sunrise, represented by a lone piper - on this occasion Steve McGuinness.

The piece is not the easiest because there are times when it needs to appear to be played rather badly but James Ross led the orchestra in a fine and amusing performance.

In a passing reference to the original Viennese origins of the concert, the evening ended with a rousing performance of Johann Strauss the Elder's ever popular Radetzky March and Auld Lang Syne, both with plenty of audience participation.

John Manning

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