In this concert of 20th Century English music the SSO shone, not only as soloists but in terms of the sections. Strings (with the additional extra violins necessary for these expansive works), winds and brass achieved a well-nigh perfect blend, not just within the section itself but also across the whole tapestry of sound. This is a compliment to their musicianship, and also to guest conductor Robert Spano, who has been Music Director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra since 2001. In that capacity, Spano has made several recordings of music by Vaughan Williams (including Symphonies Nos. 1 and 4), indicating that he is something of a specialist in that composer’s music. It shows.

The concert began with Oliver Knussen’s The Way to the Castle Yonder, three brief orchestral excerpts form his opera (based on books by Maurice Sendak), Higglety Pigglety Pop!Knussen, whose father Stuart was for decades the Principal double bass in the London Symphony Orchestra, writes in a sparing, pointillist manner that beguiles the ear. Sendak’s world of mythical fearsome creatures is beautifully conveyed. The music has something of a Harry Potter quality, although this work precedes the Harry Potter films. Orchestral balance was exquisite, setting a standard...

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