This was the second concert given by the HSO under the baton of its new conductor Claudio Di Meo. The freshness and sparkle present in the orchestra’s first performance was in no way lacking here and if anything, was enhanced by the enthusiasm of players and audience alike. The programme provided contrast and balance and an enjoyable mix, with Romanian folksong, cheek by jowl with Finnish triumphalism, solemn music by Grieg, and a majestic symphony by Dvorak. In the ‘run-up’ to the concert, orchestra members eagerly anticipated the continuance of the fine audience they had enjoyed in their first Concert in January. They were not disappointed; this event attracted a full house and more importantly, a buzz of pure excitement and enjoyment prevailed. Long may it continue! 

The first half began with Solveig’s Song by Grieg, a deeply melancholic excerpt from a story of star-crossed lovers. Tragic this may have been, but the stark beauty of the melodic line captivates in the way that Grieg’s music always does. This was followed by seven Romanian Folk Dances by Bela Bartok. Based on traditional Romanian folk melodies (lovingly researched by Bartok and fellow Romanian composer Zoltan Kodaly) these short pieces varied from gossamer lightness to earthy peasant revelry. Here we heard some great virtuosity from some of the orchestra’s fine individual players. Finally, what more effective way to arouse patriotic passion than with Finlandia, the electrifying music of Sibelius. Finlandia gives us both powerful melody and a regal hymn tune which match each other in perfect contrast.

The second half of this very exciting and dramatic concert was devoted entirely to the much loved and magnificent Symphony no. 9 (From the New World) by Dvorak. Hugely popular since its composition, this work makes great demands on any orchestra, stretching the capacities of every instrument to its limit. Claudio however had his forces well under control, so that what the audience heard was a rich and a confident performance. This however resurrects the controversy still current between those who detect a Czech flavour in the symphony and others (of whom I am one) who regard it as ‘All American’ in tone. It does not really matter. This glorious work can stand on its own and gives us Dvorak at the height of his powers. The symphony bursts with wonderful and joyous melody. Who, for example, can resist the moving melody on the Cor Anglais in the Second Movement which echoes the yearning of the African slaves, brought to the New World to work on the Plantations? It is almost unbearably poignant and was played with great beauty. It could be said that the melodic invention and greatness of this wonderful piece anticipates and foreshadows the amazing flowering of American music in the 20th Century. One thinks of Gershwin, Rodgers, Cole Porter and Bernstein, and many others. America when Dvorak visited was a new country bursting with a vitality which infects its music.

The end of the Symphony and the Concert was greeted with rapturous applause and a feeling we had heard something very special. It will long remain in our memory.                                              

Philip Worth

Comments from the audience:

Just a note to congratulate you on another excellent performance…… The HSO is getting better and better. They must have a pretty good conductor!

Firstly, many congratulations on the superb performance yesterday evening in Boxmoor. I thought it sounded wonderful – the orchestra and conductor are clearly already an amazing team.

It was a BRILLIANT concert! Finlandia brought shivers to my spine and tears to my eyes! I must confess I was very pleasantly surprised! I came to support local music….. but it was not just good, it was absolutely incredibly marvellous.

I was so thrilled to be there on Saturday in the midst of such dramatic emotional music. It was a lovely concert; I loved the programme. Everyone seemed really happy with it.