John Manning, music critic for the Herts Advertiser, found SASO on top form for its ‘Best of Britain’ concert, providing a fitting farewell for Principal Conductor Bjorn Bantock
For four seasons conductor Bjorn Bantock has been an inspiration to the St Albans Symphony Orchestra, providing excellent leadership and direction. But Saturday’s concert was his last as the orchestra’s principal conductor and the performance was one he will remember for a long time. For the entire concert saw one of the best performances I have ever heard the orchestra give and it was also satisfying to see an audience which completely packed St Saviour’s Church.
The evening began with William Walton’s evocative and powerful Battle of Britain Suite, originally commissioned but barely used for the 1969 film of the same name. It is a work which makes significant demands of all sections of the orchestra with tricky timing and changing rhythms. Always fast and furious, Walton’s work was a fitting opening to an evening of all English music.
As a complete contrast Eric Coates delightful Saxo-Rhapsody is both languorous and lyrical. It saw David Wigram put down his more usual instrument, the viola, and take up his much-loved saxophone for the solo role. Not for the first time he demonstrated to a local audience that the instrument has a firm place in the world of classical music and his beautiful performance, coupled with the orchestra’s first-rate support, was an excellent addition to the evening.
The Wigram family’s contribution to the evening continued with a dazzling performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams ever-popular The Lark Ascending performed by David’s mother and orchestra leader, Jenny. This quintessentially English work has been one of the most popular classical works amongst British listeners since its premiere in 1920. Jenny’s polished performance was sweet and delightful and the orchestra once more gave excellent support.
And there could have been no better choice of music than Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations to bring the concerto its conclusion. Not only did it show the orchestra off to its full effect but it also demonstrated Bjorn’s great interpretative skills in directing a delightful and highly polished performance. He achieved a freshness and at the same time emphasised the emotion and beauty of each of the variations, bringing out their full character.
The orchestra could not have complimented Bjorn in a better way than ending his period as principal conductor with an evening of fine, well-played music in which every member of the orchestra gave of their very best.