Friday, 19 August 2022

Solo saxophonist claims plaudits

HENLEY Symphony Orchestra’s ever popular summer concert was presented to a large audience in the grand marquee at Shiplake College

HENLEY Symphony Orchestra’s ever popular summer concert was presented to a large audience in the grand marquee at Shiplake College on Saturday.

Despite the inclement weather, it remained an evening for picnics and a gala atmosphere.

This year the concert was conducted by a guest, Jacques Cohen, who conjured the best from the orchestra demonstrating their ability to handle the musical idioms of Britain, Russia, France, Spain and contemporary composition.

The highlight of the evening was from the soloist, Huw Wiggin, a virtuoso of the saxophone if there ever was one. Huw comes from Henley, was Commonwealth Musician of the Year and amply demonstrated how well he deserves the prizes he has obtained and the plaudits of the musical press.

The concert opened with Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture — a reference to the Arcadian land but describing with affection and no little irony London and its inhabitants; very English of around 1900 and convincingly performed by the excellent string section and the no less excellent brass. A change of scene took us to Russia and the powers of evil in Night on the Bare Mountain, a Mussorgsky depiction of wild revelry of witches and terror culminating in a tamtam stroke which heralds the arrival of the Archfiend.

Relief arrived with the introduction of the soloist, Huw Wiggin and the soprano saxophone to play a Michael Nyman composition, Where the Bee Dances.

This complex work, in which tempo and time signatures seemed to change with every bar, demanded much from the orchestra who responded admirably and the result was curiously highly enjoyable.

The inspiration of the work which the soloist played from memory is the foraging flight of the bee, forever circling, swooping and gathering nectar. But on to more familiar music with the Spanish scene from Bizet’s Carmen Suite No1.

These much-loved and tuneful excerpts were engagingly played and here the fine wind soloists came to the fore.

But back to Huw Wiggin for his second appearance now with alto saxophone for the Debussy Rhapsody, a lovely work, the smooth and liquid tone of the instrument so effective.

We were furthermore treated to an encore, variations on a Carmen theme and demonstrating virtuoso sax playing in spades! I had not believed such fast fingering was possible.

The concert finished with a further change of scene, Tchaikovski’s Marche Slave commemorating 19th century Russian support for Serbia but now a vehicle for the HSO’s splendid horn quartet. This was a varied and innovative programme, thoroughly well played and enjoyed by all who came.

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