Symphony orchestra’s full-scale success

March 2011 – John Manning writes in the Herts Advertiser

If the size of the audience was anything to go by St Albans Symphony Orchestra’s concert on Saturday must have been its most successful in years. And the overall high standard of the performances ensured that those who packed into St Saviour’s Church for the evening were not disappointed.

With a hugely popular programme and an equally popular soloist in outstanding young St Albans-based pianist Alissa Firsova, the concert really had everything going for it – including the world premiere of a new work.

From the opening work, Brahms’ Academic Overture, to the last piece in the programme, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, the evening was a tremendous musical romp. Although the performance of the overture was a little ragged in places, it was still thoroughly enjoyable and a good warm-up for the performance of Beethoven’s tremendous Piano Concerto No 5, the Emperor.

Although still a member of the prestigious postgraduate conductor course at the Royal Academy of Music, Alissa has already established an international reputation as a composer and is building a reputation in the UK as a pianist. Her performance of the Emperor on Saturday was bold, fresh and thorough and demonstrated her tremendous virtuosity. She worked extremely well with the orchestra and with conductor Bjorn Bantock in a performance which completely captivated her audience.

Saturnalia, a work commissioned for the orchestra by Edmund Jolliffe is an interesting composition which gave the orchestra’s percussion and brass sections an added opportunity to shine. Jazzy and rumbustious, Saturnalia has strong undertones of Gershwin’s music – particularly in its use of the piano. In style it was completely at odds with the rest of the music in the programme but nevertheless it was well worth listening to and hopefully there will be more performances to come.

Rounding off the programme was the second Beethoven work of the evening, his spectacular Fifth Symphony, arguably his best-loved work. Bjorn Bantock took the symphony at a significantly faster pace than one would normally expect but the performance was none the worse for that. And overall the orchestra did an extremely workmanlike job, achieving a really successful outcome which met with tremendous audience approval.

And then, to everyone’s delight came an encore – Brahms’ Hungarian Dance No 5 – a truly great way to end a fine concert.

JOHN MANNING 10 March 2011

For further information, contact:
David Utting (SASO Press Officer): 01727 762855 / 07930 313790