»I have never heard an orchestra before,« was the remark which many habitual concert-goers were prompted to make last night, during and after the first of the five concerts which are to be given this week at St. James’s-hall by the famous orchestra of the ducal Court of Saxe-Meiningen, under the directorship of Herr Fritz Steinbach. The conductor is no stranger to London, for he appeared in connexion with German opera at Covent Garden some nine years ago; but his greater fame has been in association with the players who made their first collective appearance in England last night. How, it may be asked, is it possible, in these days of orchestral excellence, to surpass the sonorous material or the exquisite refinement of the best English orchestras? The answer is to be found, not in the quality of the strings, which, in truth, is exceeded in richness and beauty by more than one body of instrumentalists, but in the perfection of the players on the wind instruments and in the marvellous unanimity of ensemble, an accuracy, which suggests that each man is as familiar with the parts of style and phrasing which makes it seem as though every movement of every hand were not merely directed, but impelled, by a single brain. The players, as is well known, had the inestimable advantage of frequent intercourse with Brahms, and have made a speciality of that master’s music; they are to play all his four symphonies during the week, and the first, the noble work in C minor, was the chief feature of the opening programme. Even those who knew it best must have awaited them, many of which were the result of a slightly different balance between wind and strings from that to which we are accustomed. The delicate gradations of pace and the play of light and shade lent to every movement a new beauty and meaning. It was well that an interval came between this and the ne plus ultra of modern music, Richard Strauss’s »Don Juan,« for, faultlessly though the latter was interpreted, the impression made by the symphony discounted its effect, if the newer work was not actually »killed« by the older; it was after the symphony that the conductor was most enthusiastically applauded and repeatedly recalled to the platform. The third Leonora overture of Beethoven began the concert, and in the phrasing of the clarinet passage, a quotation from Florestan’s great air, the style of Herr Mühlfeld was unmistakably felt. The band has been called »an orchestra of Mühlfelds,« and there is a good deal of truth in the criticism that points to him as a leading influence in the whole. The way the first oboe (Herr Gland) echoed a certain clarinet passage in the delicious ballet air from Schubert’s Rosamunde was an example of musical humour that it will be impossible to forget. The lovely little »rondino« of Beethoven in E flat, for eight wind instruments, served to show the wonderful art of the players, and the little work, an early compositions which remained unpublished till two year’s after the master’s death, is a fine example of his early period. The Meistersinger overture brought the concert to a close, and was splendidly played.