St Albans Symphony Orchestra (SASO) promise a heady mixture of passion, joy and tragic loss at their summer concert – combining the romantic Cello Concerto No 1 by Camille Saint Saens with the searing intensity of Gustav Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. (7.30pm, Saturday 25th June, St Saviour’s Church, Sandpit Lane, St Albans AL1 4DF.)
Both works were acknowledged to be ahead of their time, but only the French composer’s work was a ‘hit’ when first performed in 1871 – helping re-establish the popularity of the cello as a solo instrument. Audiences enjoyed the way that Saint Saens dispensed with breaks between the three traditional movements and unified the whole work with a memorable, linking motif.
By contrast, Mahler was convinced that the audience had no understanding of his mighty symphony when it was premiered in Germany in 1904. He is said to have expressed a wish that he might conduct it “fifty years after my death”.
He could never have anticipated how the ‘Mahler revival’ following the Second World War would be accelerated by use of the Fifth Symphony’s wistful Adagietto as theme music for the 1971 film Death in Venice. The scoring for strings and harp provides an oasis of romantic beauty in a work that starts with a heart-rending funeral march and ends with playful exuberance.
Some critics believe the symphony was written as a reflection of the composer’s passion for his wife, Alma – although it was also composed at a time of convalescence from a potentially fatal haemorrhage. Others have intriguingly characterised it as a life lived backwards, from death and turbulence to youthful energy, first love and the uncomplicated joys of childhood.
William Carslake, SASO’s guest conductor for the performance, is also a composer. Since training with the distinguished conductor Martyn Brabbins at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama he has worked with the Royal Ballet and appeared regularly with amateur orchestras, including the Hertfordshire Philharmonia and St Albans Rehearsal Orchestra. Describing himself as “composer-traveller”, his own music includes orchestra, chamber and choral works that frequently explore ecological themes.
The soloist in the Saint Saens concerto will be Michael Wigram. St Albans born and bred, Michael studied at Royal Holloway College and the Royal College of Music before joining the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s apprentice scheme. He has been a member of the Southbank Sinfonia, made up of young professionals, and plays regularly as a principal with the European Chamber Orchestra.
Michael is in demand a soloist: his previous appearance in St Albans was as recently as June 11th when he performed the Cello Concerto No. 1 by Shostakovich with the Herts Philharmonia.