Fame and farewell
“The orchestra’s leader is Andrew Rostron and he came under spotlight in one of the Strauss songs and more extensively in the Rachmaninov. In each instance his violin was burnished in tone and registered clearly.”
Todmorden’s magnificent, Grade 1-listed Town Hall, dating from 1875, straddles county boundaries and county loyalties. The latter seems tired in the face of the music-making this imposing building witnessed on Saturday night. Then again, perhaps you have to be born in one county or the other for that factor to have any impact. The orchestra hale from Todmorden and further afield.
The orchestra’s leader is Andrew Rostron and he came under spotlight in one of the Strauss songs and more extensively in the Rachmaninov. In each instance his violin was burnished in tone and registered clearly.
Stravinsky’s Suite No 2 for Small Orchestra dates from 1921 and is in short movements. The composer’s explosive cross-patch style is familiar if you know Petrushka or Pulcinella: raucous, acidic, charming, uproarious. The movements are intended to portray Sergei Diaghilev, Alfredo Casella and Erik Satie. The performance had its rough-cut moments and in the finale once or twice sounded just a little like another USA immigrant Kurt Weill.
In this programme two works by Russians, both of whom ‘settled’ in the USA, bracketed a decidedly Germanic work. Although the Rachmaninov symphony could hardly be more Russian it was written in Dresden in 1906-07. Richard Strauss’s Four Last Songs (settings of poems in German) combine the morose, the hope-imbued and the serene. They were written during Strauss’s creative “Indian Summer”. Paula Sides made a triumph of this work which emerged in her hands and those of the orchestra as a score in which the voice is first among equals. The soprano line wove backwards and forwards and into and out from the orchestral weave. However the challenge of getting the words to register in a big hall echoing with the cruelly beautiful sound of a full orchestra even at quiet levels proved only intermittently anything other than insuperable. One thing was unmistakable: Ms Sides acted the words as well as singing them – impassioned rather than stand-and-deliver impassive. Strange how this work registers as a sort of echo across the decades of Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra with its colossal sunrise to which the Four Last Songs speak as a sustained sunset.
Rachmaninov’s hour-long Second Symphony – a work once derided and disdained – has, since the 1970s, become a firmly planted ‘regular’ in the concert repertoire. It brought this concert to an affirmative end after the intermission. The conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges had a very fulsome orchestra which allowing for a few “moments”, made a gladsome noise. It’s divisive to single out episodes but I will just mention a few. The shivering and shuddering strings and the plaintive cor anglais both in the first movement, the principal trumpet whose instrument cut securely through the mêlée like a serrated blade, the squarely planted bass ‘grunt’ that ended the first movement, the impressive and endearing clarinet solo in the third movement and the strings’ starlit tone. However if there’s one element that, for me, burns into the memory it is the five (no doubt one as a “bumper-up”) French horns. They did splendidly whether in providing ostinato or whooping front-line work.