Twentieth Century Fest
“The well-known ‘big tune’ which appeared at times earlier in the work was anticipated well and never fails to stir. The orchestra relished the moment and the real sense of satisfaction that comes with the build-up to a huge climactic cadence.”
Todmorden Orchestra under their conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges, promised us a “20th Century Fest”. The programme featured music by Britten, Debussy, D’Indy, Arnold and Sibelius composed during the last century.
In fact, the concert opened with music harking back to a much earlier time, namely “Soiree Musicales” – dance music by Rossini which Benjamin Britten had orchestrated and later elaborated from a film score. The five movements were cheerful and bright, but perhaps the orchestral touches from Britten took away from the characteristic sparkle and humour evident in much of the Italian composer’s output.
There then followed two pieces for saxophone and orchestra. Whilst this instrument has been around for a long time, it still feels strange to hear it in the context of a full orchestra. The inventor, Adolphe Sax, was an instrument maker and clearly devoted huge efforts into producing a family of instruments which have become popular elsewhere and one wonders what he would have thought about the way the instrument has subsequently been utilised.
The soloist Oliver Martynsson-Parkes is still a student at Chetham’s School of Music and yet his playing was assured. The first piece was “Chorale Varie” by Vincent D’Indy, a French composer who was a contemporary of Debussy. His musical style is less adventurous although still has its own characteristics. This gentle slow work demands much of the soloist and the instrument in performance. and Oliver demonstrated clearly, he was at ease in both aspects. The occasionally mournful tone of the instrument came through beautifully. The work deserves to be better known.
The second piece was the perhaps more familiar Rhapsody by Debussy. Here the sensuous nature of the instrument was apparent and yet it was also able to compete where required with the full orchestra. Technical challenges appeared to be easily overcome and this was wonderful playing greatly enjoyed by the audience. One hopes to hear this soloist many more times as his career develops.
The first half concluded with “English Dance Suite no.1” by Malcolm Arnold. His music is of course very popular and here the orchestra was able to excel in enjoyment of these lively dances. The music was bright and energetically played and brought the first half to a satisfactory close.
The second half of the concert was devoted to one work – the hugely significant and impressive Fifth Symphony by Sibelius. However, when the programme tells you the symphony is “powerful and complex” you know you are in for a hard ride.
Todmorden Orchestra currently has a fine brass section, and this is essential in performance of this composer’s music. The symphony is at times unfathomable and demands concentration and close listening. There are enigmatic elements and sections that at times appear to have no real connection with the greater structure of the movements. Accuracy of playing and a sense of purpose contribute to an effective rendition and just occasionally the performance was let down by ensemble issues.
Nevertheless, the sense of vast open landscapes was with us as we journeyed through this immense work. The well-known “big tune” which appeared at times earlier in the work was anticipated well and never fails to stir. The orchestra relished the moment and the real sense of satisfaction that comes with the build-up to a huge climactic cadence. The ending though is indeed surprising, but as the audience headed out into a cold night, they were warmed by thoughts of the flock of swans flying over the Finnish landscape which is said to have inspired that grandiose and immense melody. Conductor and orchestra are both to be thanked for giving us that wonderful experience.