Music for a Century, Saturday 16 November 2019
Tragedy, fairy-tales and childhood visions in Yorkshire
Malcolm Arnold – Overture: Peterloo (1967)
Igor Stravinsky – Firebird Suite (1919)
Gustav Mahler – Symphony No 4 (1901)
His orchestral dances – one set for each of the UK’s countries – show that the British composer Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006) was apt to respond to associations and moods. The ‘great and the good’ were quick to recognise this so it is no surprise that Arnold’s Peterloo overture was commissioned from him by the TUC. It is not one of his finest works but it’s certainly a pungent and craftily sentimental one.
In a very well attended concert the Todmorden orchestra pulled no punches in this Ives-like evocation of the massacre on Manchester’s St Peter’s Fields in 1819. The overture has become something of a staple and I have noted an earlier performance in Manchester Cathedral in 2012. Sir Tim Rice even provided an oration to accompany the music and had this premiered at the Proms in 2014. Last year there was a Mike Leigh film; it might seem that he beat Ken Loach to the draw – not that there was a race. The Arnold score dates from 1967 and was written during his years living in Cornwall – the years that also bore The Padstow Lifeboat and the Cornish Dances. In Todmorden the orchestra gave effective voice to the long-breathed quiet anthem that opens and closes the piece. In between, they celebrated prolonged bedlam in which the side-drum hammers away (as in Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony) in what seems like an effort to halt the bloodily tumultuous proceedings.
One of Stravinsky’s little suites appeared in the orchestra’s last concert. This time conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges had the 1919 version of the suite from Stravinsky’s Diaghilev ballet The Firebird. The music is a showpiece but a showpiece of substance that is both brilliant and poetically moving. The orchestra were well up to form and this was obvious from many a quiet detail as well as the moments of rapturous upheaval. To take just one example there are two sections where celesta and xylophone are heard in mirrored partnership. They were heard in perfect simultaneity; such attention to detail.
After the intermission came Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. This is one of Mahler’s most lightly seraphic visions. Its alpine glow and unrushed bloom were extremely well caught in an epic performance that was never breathless. Everything seemed a tense yet languid prelude to Thérèse Wincent’s singing of the final German-language setting of ‘Das Himmlische Leben’; a slight shame that the sung words and translation were not in the programme book. The innocence of this child’s vision of heaven brought the evening to a nicely balanced downbeat close. If you are used to the sort of magnificent Mahlerian hullabaloo that ends some of his symphonies this is the antithesis. There was some risk-taking in choosing this symphony to bring the concert to a close but I am glad that risk was taken.
Fame & Farewell, Saturday 29 June 2019
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.
From Italy to England, Saturday 23 March 2019
From the first wind entry with its undercurrent of string pizzicato, Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances developed its courtly ambiance. Variously rhythmic with dynamic changes the orchestra, under the baton of Nicholas Concannon Hodges, evoked the stately variations with good note length, precise and steady control moving from rallentando and pianissimo to a lively and joyous entry. As the movements progressed, one heard the sections dominate and fall away with full-blooded whole orchestra entries, punctuated by brass with bassoon and lower string accompaniment. In the beautiful Campanae Parisienses the harp executed clear and well-articulated passages, the whole surging and diminishing as it flowed towards its serene dying closure. The orchestra handled the transition from the calm, pianissimo and flowing, to the bright, lively and forte peaks and troughs of the different movements with notable delicacy and technical control.
With a piece of music as well-known as Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez there is little room for error. However, soloist Giacomo Susani from the first precise, rhythmic entry remained demonstrably in control throughout, whether playing in parallel to excellent soloists including the intense cello or the haunting, immaculate cor anglais, or the whole orchestra. Susani set the pace throughout, most conspicuously in the slow movement, where time was as of no consequence. Here was complete immersion and the audience held its breath. Overall, it was a memorable performance both from the soloist and the orchestra. An impromptu solo encore occasioned by the enthusiasm of the audience was a piece unknown to me. It was a delicate and ornamental air demonstrating the combination of the lower and upper registers which gives the guitar so much of is range and finesse. Free reign was allowed the soloist before retreating to the fading dénouement.
The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Liszt in its orchestrated guise is probably one of the best loved pieces in the repertory for its drama, variety and tunefulness. The demands on the orchestra are considerable, not least on the clarinet with its tricky sequences, eloquently played. Themes abound, skipping from the dramatic, to the playful, the insistent to the gallop, here pushing ahead, there holding the audience in suspense, off-beat, accelerating, with rapid changes of dynamic. This is a thrilling piece to listen to and the orchestra gave a carefully rehearsed and accomplished performance.
Vaughan Williams’ Wasp Suite is not frequently played. It was a pleasure therefore to hear the different movements. The opening section, after a token reference to the title, moves, as one would expect with VW, to the sophisticated orchestration of a folk tune ranging across the orchestra: horns playing the delicate melody with the strings bringing warmth to a pastoral section of charm and beauty with harp underlay. From there to a growling mood, passed from section to section, the music evolves to the triumphal march. Through the ensuing sections, Vaughan Williams continually shows his imaginative use of instruments for their distinctive qualities: the piccolo, horn, timpani, every section has its moment. A master of variation, whether of instrumentation, or pace, change of rhythm, dynamic, declarative, fragile or whimsical, all are represented with skill, often surprise, and finesse. And the orchestra and conductor made good their interpretation. Well done, Todmorden Orchestra.
Autumn concert, Saturday 10 November 2018
There were three themes to this concert: Spain, aspects of Russia and intensely earnest fantasy. Before that, and given that a special Armistice Day (a century since 11 November 1918) was only 24 hours away, there was a minute’s silence, the Last Post (played by Daniel Gordon) and the National Anthem, through all of which the audience stood.
As for Spain it held court in the first part of the evening. We had a favourite, though not that commonly heard in the concert hall, in the shape of Chabrier’s España. This is Spain through the viewpoint of a Frenchman – not that uncommon. It’s a tricky little piece, combining taut exuberance and intricacy. The orchestra took it carefully; not wanting to be wrong-footed by the criss-cross of Chabrier’s exultant rhythms. It still emerged as richly enjoyable with its unusual complement, including four bassoons. A good start.
After this, a dramatic change of mood and more. Onto the stage, with the conductor, came Simon Desbruslais nursing two trumpets – a standard narrow-bore concert instrument and a wide-bore flugelhorn, darling of the brass band movement. This was for the composer Tim Benjamin’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra. The slightly more mellow tone of the flugelhorn was used in the central of three movements. Across the two movements, this modern work left me with the image of a pilgrimage with the pilgrim (trumpet) traversing a desolate and despairing waste-land. The pilgrim succumbs and gives voice in sympathy with the despondency. Less frequently he kicks against it. This is very much a work with orchestra rather than an overt display or heroic conflict piece. Had the composer wanted something like that then he would have scored for a much smaller orchestra or stripped out all but the strings. As it was the band was big and was employed in a big way rather like Gubaidulina’s Offertorium. It’s remarkable that Benjamin also built in at least one moment where the principal trumpet (Lawrence Killian) has a very prominent segment in the score; a generous gesture. The Benjamin concerto opens with whispered chattering figuration almost familiar from Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony and continues in tracks I would liken to a desolate version of Copland’s Quiet City. Rumbling and roiling figures reminded me of similar disconsolate pages from the Swedish composer, Allan Pettersson’s Seventh Symphony. Benjamin’s is a powerful, unrelenting (OK so the central movement is quieter) and dense piece. The soloist has to be, and was, a true professional in, for the most part, having to forsake overt vainglorious heroics of the sort the orchestra and soloist Brian McGinley revelled in for a trumpet concerto by Arutiunian in 2011. This is a very different work. The final pages were full-throated indeed in what did not feel like a concession to standard applause-enlisting concerto heroics. The composer, one of the orchestra’s second violins, was called forward and shared acclaim with the soloist, conductor and the rest of the orchestra.
The Iberian aspect returned before the intermission with a piece of Spanish euphoria by a Spanish composer, Manuel de Falla. Three dances – the very best bits – from the Massine/Picasso ballet The Three Cornered Hat were brilliantly if occasionally splashily done. The silky violin sound registered strongly and made a link back to the Chabrier. It is uproarious stuff and vividly catches deep shade and tender romance. It presents that aspect just as memorably as the strutting, rowdy anarchic marches. The orchestra were up for this and I single out for special praise the spectacularly roiling horns and the fluid tone of the violins, led by Andrew Rostron.
The second part was a wholly Russian affair. Rachmaninov’s Vocalise started life as the last of his 14 Songs Op. 34. It is directed to be sung using any one vowel of the singer’s choosing. What we heard was for orchestra alone; the composer’s own arrangement. It’s typically and bloomingly romantic and is a sort of second cousin to the 18th Variation in the same composer’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. The orchestra gave a touching and passionate performance and stayed completely in touch, bar by bar, with the dynamic swell and its interweave of Klimt-like glimmering clouds and stars. Andrew Rostron’s violin solo also stood out complementing and leading an excellent performance which only suffered slightly because, say, ten more violins would have delivered a more telling weight to the string tone.
The concert ended with Prokofiev’s Symphony No 7. How often does that appear at live concerts? The orchestra, by then fully warmed up, gave a high octane reading of the symphony’s four movements. Once again we heard a big orchestra, more than filling the hall’s extended staging and necessitating two of the violins and other instruments having their chairs in the wings of the main hall. The only momentary blemish was a rather glutinous stodgy start to the third movement. This is a work of many episodes all intimately locked together. As for the orchestration it includes five percussionists, plus piano and harp. The music several times gives the impression of the ‘eternal clockwork’ which you hear winding down at the quiet ending. That clockwork off-beat, rhythmic, percussion-dominated ‘signature’ reminds me of a similar effect adopted by Shostakovich for the extended finale of his Fifteenth (and last) Symphony. The expansive, resilient and frankly glorious theme from the first movement has illustrious stamina. The theme returns in true cyclic fashion and full finery in the finale, complete with some buoyant ‘punctuation’ from the trombones to loft the moment even higher than in the first movement. The Seventh Symphony is something of a Cinderella but deserves far more than obscurity. It should be heard just as often as the Classical Symphony from the other end of Prokofiev’s life. Tribute goes to conductor and orchestra for an object lesson in reviving a rarely heard work and doing so with nothing short of magnificence.
Film Music Night, Saturday 23 June 2018
Opening with an unlisted, but immediately recognisable, cinema fanfare a Film Music Night concert was presented by Todmorden Orchestra at the Town Hall on a fine summer’s evening. This set the tone for a performance of highly-enjoyable, tuneful orchestral film favourites.
The near seventy-piece orchestra brought a sonority and range of dynamics (but not often pianissimo!) that thrilled the large, appreciative audience. Condensed musical ideas are the hallmark of popular, commercial soundtrack music. In the sixteen pieces presented, there was evidence of the very best examples of the genre, from the middle decades of the last century until the present day. Fittingly, the doyen of orchestral film music, John Williams, began and ended the programme with Harry’s Wondrous World from the Harry Potter canon, and the iconic Star Wars. More of this later.
Malcolm Arnold’s Whistle Down the Wind brought back memories of the original black and white film from the 1960s which was set in our region. The film and music are real gems, and the piccolo solo was played to perfection by Carisse White, with fine, tender playing too on flute from Charlotte Walls. This haunting melody is probably immortal.
Perhaps the most famous, and plaintive, of all oboe melodies followed with Gabriel’s Oboe performed sensitively by Diana Doherty, and richly accompanied by the strings.
A highlight of the first half was a suite from Howard Shore’s haunting score for The Fellowship of the Ring. Here there is a synthesis of the Epic: angular, menacing, mysterious and pastoral. This must surely be some of the very best orchestral music composed in recent years, and not just for the cinema. A simple version of Henry Mancini’s Moon River brought a calming interlude, with a gentle string passage, and the fine solo horn section.
The build-up to the interval started with Elmer Bernstein’s theme from The Great Escape with its jaunty main tune, later run together with a counter melody. The piece ended rather abruptly without a satisfactory coda. The big sound of the same composer’s The Magnificent Seven was a fine finish, if perhaps the upper strings were by now justifiably flagging slightly!
Part two opened with Pirates of the Caribbean which is fun, but without the finesse of a John Williams’ score. Here we have relentless energy rather than finely-tuned musicality. The ultimate ‘easy listening’ followed with Max Steiner’s A Summer Place with its beautifully-orchestrated melody.
Amongst so many musical treasures, I particularly relished Ron Goodwin’s 633 Squadron. This has everything really great film music needs – brilliant flourishes, a sweeping melody, contrasting moods and a machismo quality ideally suited to the subject matter. Two of Lawrence Killian’s stylish arrangements were included. The first, Colonel Bogey , which Malcolm Arnold had orchestrated in The Bridge on the River Kwai, included whistling audience participation! This was a novel, yet welcome feature, complete with ‘pre-show’ rehearsal. A little later we heard Lawrence play on fleugelhorn his cheerful, nuanced arrangement of Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head which provided a quieter contrast to the bigger, showier pieces.
Two particular items will always remain with me from this half: a Big Band version of Mancini’s The Pink Panther theme played on saxophone with assurance by Helena Summerfield. This was yet a precursor of, for me, the highlight of the entire evening – a saxophone trio (formerly flautists) playing from Star Wars the boisterous, madcap Cantina Band classic, a stunning and electrifying performance from all involved that will long remain in the memory. A short selection from the ever-popular Mary Poppins entertained us further, and the much-played Star Wars main title provided a finale flourish to this truly remarkable concert.
Once again Todmorden Orchestra has shown the wide range of its talents, and is unquestionably one of the best larger regional orchestras for voluntary music-making in the North. This concert was a real family affair, introducing a whole new generation to the thrill of live music performance. All credit must be given to conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges (and leader Andrew Rostron), whose verve and commitment continues to raise expectations, and satisfy both players and audience alike. Bravo!
Christopher Irvin Browne
Spring Romance, Saturday 17 March 2018
As the wintry weather raged around Todmorden Town Hall on Saturday night those who attended the Spring concert by Todmorden Orchestra were treated to an evening of stirring, passionate and reflective music.
The concert began with an overture by Berlioz “Les Franc-juges”. A lengthy austere opening reminded us of the power entrusted to judges. The brass thrilled and the music was passionate. The lively familiar theme was well played and the climax at the conclusion was compelling
Rachael Gibbon then performed Spohr’s Clarinet Concerto in C minor. The reflective opening movement enabled the smooth playing and tone of the soloist to be heard, and the balance between soloist and orchestra was well maintained. The technically difficult passages were assured and the beautiful melodic writing in the short slow movement was sensitively played. The rondo finale has clever interaction with the orchestra and there were cheerful musical ideas with different orchestral colours in the accompaniment. With no virtuoso cadenza the concerto ended quietly.
In Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony in G major the dark opening was controlled and full of emotion. The orchestra settled into the mood of the work with bright climaxes and vigorous energetic playing when required. The second movement was full of drama and passion and the woodwind section was particularly pleasing throughout. The short violin solo by leader Andrew Rostron came through beautifully and turbulent interludes were played with passion.
The melancholy third movement has a soaring melody for the upper strings and again the woodwind section displayed skill in accompanying while the cross-rhythms of the middle section were tightly controlled by the conductor.
The clarion call from trumpets that begins the final movement leads into a melody from cellos and horns, played with much feeling. In the following variations the solo flute was especially noteworthy. There was energetic playing in the dramatic development before the return of the trumpet fanfare, now with full orchestral forces. The return to the opening theme, with further variations, is interrupted by energetic music leading to a rousing and triumphal ending, making this one of the most popular symphonies in the repertoire.
So as the audience made its way home in the perilous conditions there was at least the comfort of knowing that a splendid evening’s music had been enjoyed.
An Evening in Vienna, Saturday 20 January 2018
The committee of Todmorden Orchestra is always looking for programme innovation. Rather than the traditional Christmas event as in years before, to jumpstart 2018 a decision was made to explore the vast Strauss family repertoire of popular Viennese music.
The large resources of the orchestra sustained a well-balanced programme, each half of which opened with an overture: Die Fledermaus and Gypsy Baron. There was some stylish interplay between the woodwind soloists, if occasionally the upper strings seemed overwhelmed by the combined wind forces!
There was humour with the railway journey Polka Schnell, complete with guard’s whistle and costume!
The strings excelled in the famous Pizzicato Polka (with percussion), notable for a particularly sensitive control of dynamics.
I was very taken with the Egyptian March, a beautifully-orchestrated gem by Johann Strauss II composed for the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869. The audience was taught an impromptu sing-a-long chorus, which added much to the spontaneity of the evening. This feature was enjoyably evident in the Toy Symphony when soloists were lined up (dragged up!) in front of the string orchestra to play an assortment of largely non-orchestral instruments including a dominant rattle, manic cuckoo and lovelorn nightingale!
The first half concluded with the magnificent Emperor Waltz where the brass played the famous rousing ‘chorus’ with relish.
The second part seemed even more assured with excellent performances of Tritsch Tratsch and Thunder and Lightning Polkas. Here was uninhibited verve and risk, with spot-on bouncy tempi.
One of the highlights of the evening was Lehar’s Gold and Silver Waltz , a piece that brought the composer his first international fame. This is such life-affirming music, with delicate contrasts of light and shade. For once the lower strings have a really fabulous tune which was played to perfection.
And so to a traditional conclusion: The Blue Danube followed by the Radetzky March. I’m pleased to report that there was no diminution of energy and joie de vivre.
To sustain an entire evening of inspired, blissful melody is yet another major achievement for this remarkable orchestra; the region is indebted to Nicholas Concannon Hodges who has worked so successfully to bring the orchestra to its present very high standard.
Christopher Irvin Browne
Music for Autumn, 11 November 2017
Todmorden, a town in the Upper Calder Valley, in West Yorkshire is about 17 miles from Manchester. It is the home of its own orchestra. Its concerts are given in the exotic Victorian opulence of the Todmorden Town Hall.
The ambience of this orchestra’s concerts, which are fully attended, underscores that this is a community orchestra. It amply rewards the pride, confidence and financial support it receives from Todmorden Town Council which also met a substantial part of the costs of the new tiered staging used at this concert.
Mainstream classical repertoire made up this concert but it was not an entirely central-core selection. The Brahms overture could easily have been the Tragic’s companion, the Academic Festival which the orchestra played in 2014. The Tragic is more of a turbulently protesting tone-poem than anything else. As for the Dvorak, the audience had the pleasure of hearing the concerto for violin rather than the cello. To break completely free the programme could have gone for Dvorak’s Piano Concerto but then we would have been denied hearing violinist Michael Foyle. In any event I cannot recall ever encountering the delightful Dvorak violin concerto at a live concert.
Brahms’ overture had some rough-hewn passages but was strong on the score’s rocking tension. The work’s growl and turbulence, which has parallels in the First Symphony and First Piano Concerto, was well put across. The squat tone of the horns and the darkling glow of the strings en masse were satisfying. Cohesion was well sustained although the louder passages were rowdy or vaguely defined.
The Dvorak introduced the confident and capable soloist Michael Foyle who laid into the concerto with a will. The orchestra, reduced in size from the Brahms, were now well and truly warmed-up. Once again the horns and trumpets were on triumphant form; no trombones or tuba, of course. The conjoined first and second movements were all quicksilver and caramel and trippingly done. Mr Foyle’s violin sang out well, although at the start, after that commanding jaw-jutting statement, he was rather swamped by the volume of the orchestra; at least he was from the back of the balcony. His tone was splendidly ample and well nourished rather than slender. The whirling finale was nothing short of exciting. This is a fascinating work with a delightful demeanour rather than a contest of the passions. I do hope that the orchestra conductor and Michael Foyle will be tempted to make a return fixture with, say, the Glazunov, Schoeck or Ivanovs concertos which have qualities similar to the Dvorak. Nicholas Concannon Hodges proves, time after time, that his choice of soloists is sound and rising stars must surely see him and Todmorden as a sure route to a wider career.
After the interval came the Tchaikovsky. The orchestra was now back to a very full complement. Right from the start Mr Hodges and the orchestra pinned their “articles of Faith” to the wall. Here was a performance full of transfixing character and, rather as with the Dvorak, there was no inclination for the attention to drift. Highlights outnumbered moments when things slipped their moorings. Better mention that the last few pages of the first movement and several minutes of the second fell below the orchestra’s best with an errant swerve amid the horns (over string pizzicato) and a vinegary smear from the lower strings. That out of the way the highlights piled in, one after another. The opening pages for solo bassoon handing over to solo clarinet held the audience in the palm of the orchestra’s hand. The super-heated up-draughts of the massed strings in the first and third movements and their sobbing concentrated power in the finale were superbly carried off as was some rampant and romping brass – always a Todmorden accolade. The work for the flutes should also not pass without note. With generally very fine ensemble playing this was one of those performances where the listener was simply swept along and gripped page after page.
This utterly enjoyable Pathétique had me hoping that the orchestra and conductor’s ambitions will take them to other works that would fit their gleaming track-record. I would ask them to consider three pieces. There’s Tchaikovsky’s Francesca da Rimini with its scorching violin whirlwinds, brass tornadoes and seductive clarinet solo, all of which are echoed in the TSO’s Pathétique. Another piece for which they have emphatically convincing credentials is Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances – part concerto for orchestra and part symphony. Then again, if they are feeling really adventurous – and I hope they are – why not one of the brilliant great British symphonies of the 1930s. Let them try either the Moeran in G minor or the primary colours of Bax’s triumphantly barbaric Fifth Symphony. If Havant can give us the Dyson symphony and Slaithwaite the George Lloyd Sixth why should these works be off the menu for the Todmorden Symphony Orchestra?
Saturday 24 June 2017, Todmorden Town Hall
The programme opened with the overture to Verdi’s La Traviata. The orchestra began calmly with no hint of the drama to come and building to the well-known melody. The tenor, Gareth Morris, took to the stage with great confidence, supported with precision and discipline by the choir. Not to be left out the soprano joined with clear melodic projection leading to a full-bodied duet with both singers displaying accomplished stage-craft. This was a terrific start and was enthusiastically received by the audience anticipating a memorable evening.
The orchestra subsequently delivered what we have come to expect of them in the ten years under the baton of Nicholas Concannon Hodges. This includes good ensemble, a clear enjoyment of what they are about, clear sectional leads overall and easy transition between the many varied moods of the programme.
The choir, with Antony Brannick as chorus master, overall provided a balanced and carefully rehearsed underlay or main focus throughout their contributions. This showed itself equally in the Mozart’s Idomeneo with good ensemble across the range, whether surging or in repose, or in the muted lament of Verdi’s Macbeth with a demanding upper voice part. The command of the chorus, when versatility was needed, showed, not least, in The Peasants’ Chorus from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, featuring a male solo with clear tone, good presence and reliable intonation who led his fellow singers in celebratory fashion through to a carillon-type chorale building in declamatory dynamic before decaying to echo the church call to prayer.
The replacement for soprano Victoria Sharp, engaged at short notice was Paula Sides. Once accustomed to the ambiance of the hall and warmed up, she came into her own. The voice was pure, the intonation sound, the control seemingly effortless. Her initial entry, in La Traviata had clear, melodic projection. There was beautiful contrast in Idomineo, reflective as befits the mood, with Paula not just singing her part but convincingly acting it. Similarly her Norma was calm, with no bravura, but great clarity of expression. She set a stately pace and with great control of phrasing and dynamic, seemed to be singing half to herself. Her Musetta, from La Bohème was wonderful, not just because of her singing, but because she came into her own as the natural actress that she clearly is.
The tenor was Gareth Morris, and from the outset his voice dominated any part in which he sang and was hugely powerful from his first entry in La Traviata. He was strong but more restrained, as in cheerful mood he mused over the capricious nature of women in Rigoletto. Lensky’s aria from Eugene Onegin was a complete contrast. There was sadness, regret for lost opportunities, and passion, sung with expression and first-rate enunciation, adding moment to our understanding of his reminiscence. Gareth’s capacity for self-control matched by self-confidence inspired the audience to enter his role. Lastly, the now unmissable Nessun Dorma brought the house down. What a way to go!
The concert was a triumph for all – and not least for the audience, who are indeed fortunate to have such tremendous talent on their very doorstep.
Saturday 11 March 2017, Todmorden Town Hall
Vitality and ambition are hard-wired into these Todmorden concerts. As for the orchestra they were on very fine form notwithstanding some fleetingly disorientating off-piste swerves from the French horn section – a section that also had its moments in the sun.
The music of Jean Sibelius predominated; two fairly substantial early works in one concert is quite something and very welcome. These works of the 1890s are familiar enough – the foot-tapping Karelia Suite in particular. The sense and pleasure of the suite was well conveyed. Among the delights were the woodwind including the cor anglais in the Ballade movement and the flute in the Alla Marcia. Todmorden Orchestra can take pride and pleasure in having such players in their midst and they are not alone. The central Ballade with its pre-echoes of the quieter pages in Kullervo was superbly done. The hushed playing at its start was strikingly atmospheric even if at this dynamic the music has to contend with the bar’s refrigerator whir; noticeable also in the Symphony. Muffling for that piece of old technology should be part of any improvement programme for the hall.
Delius’s slow-burn, nostalgic yet always passionate Walk to the Paradise Garden was most lovingly yet relentlessly sculpted. Its many soloistic pages were gloriously done. Especially notable again were the woodwind but the whole string section also. You could almost see the dappled scenes with shafts of sunlight catching motes of dust.
Then came the late Master of the Queen’s Music’s An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise. The conductor entered the hall via the audience main aisle for a change. This was to signal an unusual work and one light years from Peter Maxwell Davies’ wilder extremes of the 1960s. This piece came from his accessible style alongside such glittery scores as Mavis from Las Vegas and such simple moving pieces as Farewell to Stromness. The culture of PMD’s beloved Orcadian home was breathed most realistically and freshly into these pages. The title gives a good indication of what we were to hear and the whiskey fumes can almost be inhaled. The Scottish flavour of the writing is undeniable although Orcadians are not necessarily to be thought of as entirely Scottish — too much Nordic DNA. It’s a convivial piece, turbulent and opening with a wild sliding scree of notes. The music pitches and heaves and also works as a most demanding concerto for orchestra with many ferocious passages which were well carried off. There are flying and whooping echoes of other works too: inevitably Arnold’s Tam O’Shanter but also Roy Harris’s Folksong Symphony and the ‘great sneeze’ from Kodaly’s Hary Janos. At the close the bagpipe soloist, Fraser Fifield, who processed into the hall, is given pages that touch on the instrument’s romantic soul rather than its traditional accustomed fare. This deft, utterly charming and quietly spoken player – in tartan regalia – treated the audience to two encores. One was on low pipe – a soulful baritonal instrument rich in highland mists and sorrows – and a foot-tapping bagpipe solo. It would be good to hear him in a classical work again, perhaps Aloys Fleischmann’s Clare’s Dragoons?
After the interval came a memorable Sibelius First Symphony which follows up on an equally good Second Symphony which this team did so well in March 2014. The conductor and orchestra clearly revel in their romantic Sibelius. The roaring Tapiola-like gales in the second movement were remarkable and the Scherzo had the pulse racing. The piled-high climactic romantic convulsions of the Finale brought the house down and the orchestra’s northern brass traditions were borne on high.
Not sure who was behind these repertoire choices but well done and let’s hope they might chance their arm with Sibelius’s Sixth Symphony and Pohjola’s Daughter.
Saturday 12 November 2016, Todmorden Town Hall
Todmorden Orchestra and Nicholas Concannon Hodges again delivered a demanding and well balanced programme in Todmorden’s magnificent Grade I-listed Town Hall.
Picking up on Hallowe’en two of the works touched on witchery. The Mussorgsky overture Night on a Bare Mountain (heard, I think, in the Rimsky edition rather than the increasingly popular original edited by David Lloyd-Jones) has its inspiration in Gogol’s short story “St. John’s Eve”. The orchestra carried this off with an admirably exhausting combination of the rushingly febrile and the iron-shod emphatic. The close of the overture was very nicely done with special praise due to the woodwind. More than ever the peace regained after all those sinister celebrants flee in the face of dawn and Mother Church recalls another Mussorgsky delight: Dawn on the Moskva River from the opera Khovanshchina.
Vaughan Williams was known for revelling in writing for ‘unusual’ instruments. The flügelhorn plays its part in the Ninth Symphony alongside the saxophone in that symphony and in the Sixth. The Eighth Symphony is well known for its ‘spiels and ‘phones. There’s even a Romance for harmonica and Orchestra. Here the orchestra was joined by the distinguished tuba-player Les Neish for the Tuba Concerto. The portly instrument’s billowing tone, accentuated by the acoustic, tended to emphasise the long melodic line so that Mr Neish’s virtuoso attention to the faster sequences of individual notes was masked somewhat. It was enjoyable to hear this rarely encountered work which was impressively romped through. Pretty fleet-footed in the two outer movements it was certainly too fast for me in the middle movement which had its romantic tenderness compromised; it is after all a Romanza not a sprint and the first movement is an Allegro moderato. Quibbles aside it was glorious to hear this work live at last. The applause drew a solo encore from Neish. Here the instrument was put through its capering and humorous paces. It explored a few places the audience might never have expected including words spoken, shaman-style and whooped into the instrument. The audience loved it.
The Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique is an ambitious five movement showcase. The orchestra was in good form with the really excellent string complement put on their mettle by some very testing writing both fragile and ebullient; let’s hope they are in similar fettle if ever they tackle Le Corsair. They came through it all with colours bold and streaming. Their pizzicato in particular was remarkable and their finest lilting filigree was a fitting match for the elegance of the two harps. Amongst so much else the oboe and cor anglais duet involved the oboist moving discreetly to the far upper left side of the stage. The two players’ chilly antiphonal duet was a shivering delight. All the woodwind were splendid and I particularly noted the unanimity, character and swagger of the four bassoons. The Berlioz brought another treasurable audience-packed evening to a close.
Rob Barnett, November 2016
Saturday June 25th 2016, Todmorden Town Hall
The concert opened with a spellbinding performance of Debussy’s Prelude a l’apres midi d’un Faune initiated by a full-toned flute solo played by Charlotte Walls. Conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges brought out the very best in this exquisite piece, with great attention to detail. The strings were finely-balanced, with some faultless horn ensemble work (a particular strength of the evening).
Riyad Nicolas, the young Syrian pianist, brought the rhythmically-charged Ravel Piano Concerto in G major vividly to life, despite a slight inequality of balance between keyboard and orchestral forces. The first movement is a rather madcap, jazzy affair with some daring trumpet blasts performed with aplomb by Lawrence Killian. This contrasts admirably with the second movement, which is a musical ‘stream of consciousness’, and is indeed one of the great achievements in music. There was deeply-felt playing with some captivatingly sensitive interplay between soloist and cor anglais (Diana Doherty). The piece finishes with a short, virtuosic display of musical fireworks! – altogether a lively conclusion to part one.
There was a bombastic start to part two with Berlioz’s Hungarian March from The Damnation of Faust. The brass section was truly thrilling here, with a ground-shaking build-up of sound!
This adventurous and satisfying programme continued with the well-know Dance of the Hours by Ponchielli. Nimble strings contrasted with some glorious celli sonority. The breakneck Galop gave the woodwind some scintillating passages.
The evening was concluded by a selection from the sublime Swan Lake score by Tchaikovsky, starting with the monumental Scene, notable again for some magnificent horn playing. With the Valse, the orchestra was again on top form, showing its flexibility, panache, well-paced forward movement, and back-of-your-seat dynamics!
Tchaikovsky’s powers of orchestration are a wonder, especially apparent in the sweet tones of the orchestra’s leader, Andrew Rostron in another Scene, this time partnered by the accomplished playing of Maxine Molin-Rose (harp) and Frances Moorhouse (principal cello). The four-dance sequence that followed revealed even more dramatic ensemble work, with a stand-out solo from Lawrence – again – in the Danse Napolitaine.
The Finale was a masterstroke. This great symphonic sweep concludes the ballet, and was a fitting end to an exhilarating evening of music-making. I cannot imagine that anyone was left unmoved by the performance of this emotionally-charged music.
The orchestra has successfully pushed the bounds of musical achievement in the region, and we should beat a path to each concert when the season starts again in the autumn.
Christopher Irvin Browne, June 2016
Sunday April 17th 2016, Todmorden Town Hall
Todmorden’s very own symphony orchestra and choir have once again provided the community with something wonderful. Presenting works composed between 1788 and 1816, the height of the classical period, by Antonio Salieri, W.A. Mozart and Luigi Cherubini, this fascinating programme went beyond just the music and transported us back in time to one of the most dramatic periods in the history of Europe. Of course, Mozart is the one we have all heard of (and Salieri only in the context of wholly spurious stories about his collusion in Mozart’s untimely demise), although all three of these composers were celebrated and successful throughout Europe at that time of revolution and war with the beauty of their classical art appealing to our common humanity.
A great choice to open the concert, Salieri’s setting of the psalm, “Confirma Hoc Deus” also featured the work of our resident composer, Tim Benjamin who had arranged the piece for orchestra especially for this concert. Setting the emotional and musical scene for the evening, this performance was full of dramatic contrast and a very well-balanced choral sound. Tim’s richly coloured orchestration showed really community spirit as each section of the orchestra had moments to shine, including a bold bass drum at the start and finish. We were also treated here to superbly spirited solo singing from members of the choir.
There then followed Mozart’s Symphony no. 39, which, whilst not as famous as his last two symphonies, exemplifies the exquisite trickery and skill of his bright musical genius. Throughout this piece, conductor Antony Brannick chose tempi which allowed the music and the players to breathe , bounce and soar through Mozart’s colourful juxtapositions of contrasting emotions. The opening Adagio carried us through a well-paced crescendo to the energetic flights of all the string players in the ensuing Allegro. Perhaps the most Mozartian of all here was the playing of the woodwind section, which shaped their short, delicate phrases with grace. The two middle movements of the symphony provided more delights from the woodwind section, with some very well controlled solo playing from all in turn, especially the clarinet in the folk-like trio. Antony kept the pace of the final allegro movement firmly in his grasp, letting the real Mozart in all these complex textures, dialogues, counterpoint and Viennese fun come to the fore.
Cherubini’s Requiem in C minor, which formed the second half of the concert, is a surprisingly sober piece for someone who made his career writing for the Paris Opera. It spoke so aptly to the grief of Europeans living in the wake of the Napoleonic wars that it was chosen for the funeral of Beethoven. A wonderful choice of work for our choir and orchestra, this Requiem features no professional solo singing, throwing the spotlight on the ability of our big choir to blend with such care as to sing with one voice. This gave a powerful message of solidarity and redemption.
Our orchestra navigated the dramatic crescendos and diminuendos of the opening section with great balance and skill and their sensitivity allowed the richness of the low-register choral chords to resonate. The absence of violin parts in the first two sections gave the lower strings a chance to demonstrate the warmth and expression of their playing. This made the impact of the “Dies Irae”, judgement day music all the more dramatic as the violins entered with devilish panache, coupled with the choir’s spitting sibilants – a brilliantly memorable moment of real commitment by the performers.
There were several passages of unison singing and unison orchestral playing whose togetherness in intonation and phrasing was magical and drew the audience into the honest humanity of this music. Finally, after the deftly navigated chromatic complexities of the latter sections of the Requiem, the melody of the choir was reduced to one, repeated low note, sustained with Zen-like focus, which together with ethereal orchestral playing brought us to a sound world of the music of the future. A remarkable ending to a remarkable evening.
Daniel Bath, April 2016
Saturday March 12th 2016, Todmorden Town Hall
Certain works have a vigorous life in concert repertoire. Inevitably, given the sheer quantity of music, other works for the most part, tend to be heard, if they are heard at all, in recordings. Last night’s concert offered four pieces which are often heard in the concert hall and two that, these days, are usually recorded fare. The Elgar and Brahms are concert-hall regulars; the others not. They’re all nineteenth century works with only the Elgar teetering on the lip of the 20th century.
The Enigma Variations comprises variations each of which bears the initials or nicknames of ‘my friends pictured within’, as the dedication runs. Its immediate and sustained popularity – like that of his First Symphony – can be contrasted with the travails initially endured by Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius dating from the following year. Enigma is a work that runs the gamut of emotions and musical effects. It culminates in a flamboyant and confident self-portrait: E.D.U. – quite a Straussian and indeed unEnglish gesture. Together with a few other scores it carried Elgar’s name and reputation aloft during the doldrum days (1940s-1960s) when his music was considered unfashionable. The work’s success engendered some broadly contemporaneous pieces following a similar scheme including orchestral scores by two of Elgar’s Birmingham contacts: Granville Bantock (Helena Variations) and Joseph Holbrooke (Three Blind Mice Variations; Auld Lang Syne Variations, The Girl I Left Behind Me Variations).
Apart from omitting a symphony last night’s concert followed a conventional template: an overture then a concerto and after that a work of symphonic proportions (Enigma) but generously adding two extracts from Mendelssohn’s incidental music.
The full hall – including Todmorden’s usual and encouraging contingent of children – heard an orchestra of between 52 and 56 musicians. The concert began with Otto Nicolai’s once-popular The Merry Wives of Windsor overture (1850). This was the prelude to his comic opera after Shakespeare. A suavely played introduction after Mendelssohn and Weber leads on to music with a Viennese lilt, an Oberon-style hunt and, it has to be said, more than a trace element of bombast. The introduction caught the orchestra getting warmed up to cruising speed and the bombast was topped off by the typically excellent brass of the Todmorden band.
If you are of a certain generation this music is the stuff of ‘These You have Loved’ and of 78s and LP overture collections. Count this in the same company as these overtures: Reznicek’s Donna Diana, Smetana’s Bartered Bride, Hérold’s Zampa, Suppé’s Light Cavalry and Flotow’s Martha. It’s good to hear an old friend like this once in a while and all credit to Nicholas Concannon Hodges for kicking the dictates of fashion in programming it.
Next came the Brahms Violin Concerto with Todmorden newcomer, Ren Jian, winner of the RCM Concerto Competition 2014. From first note to last there was never any doubt about this violinist’s mastery in one of the great central staples of the repertoire. He held our interest and renewed our enthusiasm in a work that many will have heard time after time. In this the orchestra compounded the effect as if gaining in confidence in the implicit challenge and slip-stream of a very fine soloist indeed. Apart from a ‘bubbled’ phrase from the top-tier brass benches in the central movement the playing was excellent. I particularly noticed the nicely calculated and executed dynamic balance in the second movement where soloist and orchestra lovingly negotiated the long gradient into silence as the movement ends. The finale’s exciting blend of ardour and eloquence was greeted with enthusiastic applause; no wonder. After several calls Ren Jian treated the audience to a baroque solo that trod the line between halting and eloquence and ended in a cooling stillness.
After the interval came two extracts from Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Nocturne seemed rather loud and not fragile enough for a nocturne. The Wedding March was full of an entirely apt pomp although as music it just does not do it for me. In the March, the Tod trumpets rang out once again in raw, starry and straight-talking confidence.
The final piece was the Elgar Enigma Variations – a tough choice as it is in effect a ‘concerto for orchestra’; a test-piece performed in the homeland of the brass band. Everyone is put through their paces and all came out of it well. I had the impression that the musicians had spent the most time preparing this work. The conductor can be proud of his work with them and they with him. Rather like the Brahms, its success is against the intimidating background of hundreds of usually highly polished concert performances, broadcasts and recordings all bearing down on the players. The results were as much of a pleasure as their playing of Sibelius’s Second Symphony a couple of seasons back. The Enigma unfurled to the audience in pretty well all of its fantastical variety. Most notable to me was the dynamic range: from thistledown to fortissimo climactics. Here was Enigma in all its skittering, rollicking, serenity and majesty. OK so we had to do without the organ but no one would have noticed in the face of such a performance.
Rob Barnett, 13th March 2016
Saturday November 7th 2015, Todmorden Town Hall
Todmorden Orchestra’s recent concert opened with an additional item, ‘Nimrod’ from Elgar’s Enigma Variations which was played as a commemoration to Ann Davies whose death after 50 years as a horn player with the orchestra will be viewed with sadness by those who knew her.
The opening of the overture, ‘William Tell’, was well balanced and co-ordinated, with the lovely but exposed cello solo elegantly played by Frances Moorhouse. The dramatic ‘storm scene’ which follows had tight control and accurate rhythms. The ‘Lone Ranger’ section, so familiar to all, was played with great enthusiasm in particular during the fast-moving section. This was a full-blooded rendering.
The solo in Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations, was performed by the cellist Jane Lindsay. An orchestral introduction which had well-shaped phrasing, clear and accurate from the horns, introduces the motif. The soloist showed great subtlety and dynamic control and the orchestra and soloist were carefully balanced. The variations, varying hugely, were played with great responsiveness; melodic sequences reflected great tenderness, difficult leaps were made with panache. Throughout, the orchestra played with restraint, always supporting, never overpowering the soloist.
It is difficult to comment on Jane Lindsay’s triumphant performance without resorting to cliche in which all superlatives have been exhausted. The Rococo Variations by Tchaikovsky makes great technical demands on the soloist. Jane Lindsay was so completely in control of the technical demands that she could free her mind to address the musicality of the piece, which she did so well.
Dvorak’s Symphony no.7, is very popular amongst musicians, though less well-known to the general public than, say, no. 9 (From the New World). This popularity is hardly surprising given the nature of the writing which has large contributions from all sections. The sombre opening with lilting wind and lower string rumbles then ranges across the sections with declamatory chords. The controlled string playing with good dynamic contrasts was rhythmical and co-ordinated. Long graceful melodic lines with a dramatic brass overlay were punctuated with dance-like elements leading to the interplay of the different sections. The general ensemble featuring individual instruments built the tension insistently before the restoring the calm for the movement’s ending.
The second movement began with a gentle and flowing theme for wind and pizzicato from the second and lower strings, joined by the first violins and the orchestra overlaid by the higher wind. Following this was a dramatic interlude, calming out with demanding horn passages and lifting sequences with dynamic variation.
The third movement, the scherzo, is the best known of the symphony with its dance motif. It has melodic and divergent strands, played gracefully, with a terrific tune embracing all sections. As it develops there is increasing energy and forcefulness before the reprise. The calming wind-down with upsurges is deceptive however, as the movement ends very forcefully.
The last movement opens in solemn and stately vein. A declamatory section led by wind, brass and timpani leads to a surprisingly graceful passage which was carefully rehearsed with conspicuous dividends. Peaks and troughs, with variations in dramatic intensity continue to the sombre overtones of the concluding bars.
There is no doubt that under the baton of Nicholas Concannon Hodges since his arrival in 2006, Todmorden Orchestra has steadily improved in skill and confidence and has successfully undertaken ambitious works. This persistent driving forward of standards has paid dividends. As a result, a good sized and well-balanced orchestra, up to the demands of the work is consistently fielded.
Tony Caffrey, November 2015
Saturday June 27th 2015, Todmorden Town Hall
The Todmorden Orchestra Centenary Concert opened with an arrangement of the National Anthem by Lawrence Killian, with extended introductory and closing fanfares for brass and percussion. Then followed the vibrant Festive Overture by Shostakovich, composed in 1954 for the anniversary of the October Revolution of 1917 and often used for special occasions ever since. The overture begins and ends with a brass fanfare and there are fast-moving passages for the wind (all very neatly played), and a sweeping theme, elegantly played by the orchestra’s cellos, then taken up by the entire orchestra as the excitement builds towards the finale. The gentle Pavane pour une Infante Défunte by Ravel provided a calm contrast, with solos for individual players, including principal horn, oboe and flute – all beautifully played and gracefully accompanied by strings and harp.
The orchestra were delighted to welcome back Martyn Jackson to perform the Bruch Violin Concerto. Martyn grew up locally and played in Todmorden Orchestra as a teenager. After leaving school he studied violin at the Royal College of Music in London and then at the Hochschule für Musik in Berlin. Martyn now performs internationally and in 2013 became lead violinist of the Cavaleri Quartet. From the opening of the concerto, where the orchestra gently set the scene for the violin’s cadenza-like opening statements, it was clear that this would be a performance to remember. The orchestra accompanied Martyn’s extremely fine playing with the sensitivity required in the quiet sections, whilst supporting his beautiful tone in the powerful fortissimo passages, filling the hall with sound. The appreciative audience was rewarded with an encore: the Sarabande from J.S. Bach’s Violin Partita in D minor.
After the interval, during which special ‘Todmorden Orchestra’ cupcakes were served, the orchestra’s Chairman, John Moorhouse, thanked the many people who had made this event possible, including Martyn Jackson, Lawrence Killian and Nicholas Concannon Hodges. Orchestra members Ann Davies and Heather Hudson were presented with an engraved glass plaque to mark 50 years’ membership.
The second half opened with A Celebration for Orchestra by longstanding orchestra member Lawrence Killian, who plays principal trumpet and was conductor of Todmorden Orchestra from 1987-1991. Lawrence has composed and arranged many pieces for the orchestra. This work was commissioned for the centenary concert and has three movements. ‘Birthday Treat’ was lively and upbeat, opening with sparkling woodwind and a catchy percussion ostinato. The main theme was taken up by the entire orchestra and there were shouts of ‘Happy Birthday!’ as party poppers were set off. ‘Anniversary’ was more reflective, in a relaxed jazz style and the finale, ‘Jubilee’, was full of energy
Four Scottish Dances by Malcolm Arnold and By the Banks of Green Willow by George Butterworth are popular choices for summer concerts. The orchestra coped well with the technical demands of the Scottish Dances. Among those things that stood out were a ‘drunken’ bassoon solo, played with great character by principal bassoon and a ‘whooshy’ piccolo duet that was very effective. By the Banks of Green Willow opened with a gentle clarinet solo, beautifully played.
The penultimate piece – Royal Visit (Bacup 1913) – was another world premiere and also of local interest. Browsing in Todmorden Market, local composer Arthur Glover discovered the original manuscript of a March for Brass Band, written for the royal visit to Bacup of George V and Queen Mary in 1913. He arranged this for Todmorden Orchestra and I am certain that the original composer of this upbeat march would have approved of his splendid orchestration.
This wonderful evening of music was brought to a close with a rousing performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture, complete with tubular bells and electronic cannon shots. It seemed very fitting to both begin and end this centenary concert with an overture. Todmorden Orchestra is in excellent health under the baton and expert guidance of Nicholas Concannon Hodges, who has been their conductor since 2006. Here’s to the next 100 years!
Lynda Robertson, June 2015
Saturday March 15th 2015, Todmorden Town Hall
The orchestra was considerably augmented to create an ensemble of seventy-three players for the second concert in this centenary season. From the outset, it was evident from the lush string resonance that this concert was going to stand out from the many memorable events I have experienced in the Town Hall over the years. Verdi’s La Forza del Destino Overture began the programme traditionally with the warm sound of well-controlled strings, plus expressive woodwind, especially the clarinet – all phrased beautifully. The brass section was impressive too (a key feature of the evening), the piece leading to a thrilling climax with characteristic high string triplets. The curtain was about to rise on an evening of lively, great music!
Tim Benjamin’s well-placed, contrasting string piece followed. Yes, I Remember, written in 2013 – in an accessible yet modernist style – is a memorial tribute to conductor Sir Colin Davis. Richly-sonorous and deeply-felt, there was fine solo violin work from leader Andrew Rostron, and cellist, Frances Moorhouse. Feather-light transitions and a shimmering ending left a lasting impression.
The first half was completed with an accomplished performance by Rachael Gibbon of Weber’s popular Clarinet Concerto No.1, in the significantly-expressive dark key of F minor. Here was masterly playing: a crisp, attractive tone where required, contrasting with darker liquid passages. The balance between orchestra and soloist was tightly-controlled, with a wide range of dynamics, holding the listener’s interest throughout.
The Big Piece after the interval was Shostakovich’s magnificent Fifth Symphony in another dark key (D minor), conducted with great authority by Nicholas Concannon Hodges. The work starts rather bleakly, but with some really tender lyrical sections. The central march unleashes some thrilling brass and manic string writing. The second movement contrasts a naïve, almost child-like melody, with brilliant orchestral exuberance. The truly mournful third movement makes great use of lower strings, but with the harp giving the impression of time dripping away. The final movement is one of extraordinary angst, with some terrific spine-chilling chords of great theatricality (plus lots of effective percussion!). This concert must be one of the most defining events in the history of Todmorden Orchestra: now a powerhouse of regionally-based, voluntary music-making. Aspirations and attainment have brought the orchestra to a position of the highest creativity and prestige. Congratulations to all involved in bringing the finest music to the upper reaches of the Calder Valley.
Christopher Irvin Browne, March 2015
Sunday December 14th 2014, Todmorden Town Hall
A magical concert at Todmorden Town Hall on Sunday afternoon heralded the arrival of Christmas. Once again the separate forces of Todmorden Orchestra (conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges) and Choral Society (conductor Antony Brannick) fused in a programme especially designed to appeal to a family audience. It was fun to see the venerable hall bursting with a youthful life, rather like being accommodated within a richly decorated musical box. Treading the fine line between the celebration of Christ’s birthday and the pleasures of earthly enjoyment is a difficult balancing act.
Tradition was strongly represented in the first part. Congregational carols gave us all a chance to participate after a sweetly sung verse of Once in Royal David’s City (performed by Sophie Bingham and Georgina Holmes). Before the well-known version of Away in a Manger, the choir rendered an alternative traditional Normandy tune of simplicity and charm. It was well judged to include at this point the elegant playing, by Lynda Robertson, of Tchaikovsky’s Melodie. A familiar selection from The Nutcracker followed, showing the orchestra’s wide range of tonal colours. Choral pieces (on a New Year theme) completed the first half: it was good to hear Britten’s accessible New Year Carol. The rousing Mathias carol Sir Christemas ended part one with a fine festive flourish.
The second part of the programme was largely a memorable arrangement for both choir and orchestra from the popular CGI film The Polar Express, created for the concert by composer / trumpet player Lawrence Killian (who had also arranged the Melodie earlier). We were certainly now in the world of popular American musical theatre. Lively, catchy rhythmic tunes dominated with When Christmas Comes to Town sung by the earlier duettists. Perhaps with the choir necessarily positioned behind the orchestra, it was not always easy to follow the busy lyrics. However, the fun was tangible with narrator Ian Ross having just the right sort of theatrical flair to keep the ‘show’ steaming ahead. A medley of Christmas favourites followed with Winter Wonderland certainly resonating with me!
The inclusiveness of this material has put this annual event at the centre of Todmorden’s seasonal celebrations. The town is lucky to be able to bring together such creativity for all to share. Many congratulations to those involved, for capturing both the excitement and significance of Christmas.
Christopher Irvin Browne, December 2014
Saturday November 15th 2014, Todmorden Town Hall
The brass instrument tradition played its part in last Saturday’s Todmorden Orchestra concert at Todmorden Town Hall. French horns were at the fore in a selection of German music. This was worthy of a fully professional city orchestra and what we heard says good things about the ambition and reach of this conductor and his players.
There were a few wobbles here and there, but overall the evening was a triumph. It started with Beethoven’s Egmont overture, which had its opaque moments but was excitingly driven and went with a satisfying growl and a swing.
The first half ended with the rarely heard Schumann Konzerstuck for horns and orchestra. This made a jubilant noise: kinetic, hoarse and poetic. Nor should we forget the orchestra’s first trumpet – always something of a star. His clarion calls lifted the piece out of the woodland reveries into the joyous finale as well as being a key voice in the Mahler. The soloists were the Huddersfield Horns who were ranged at the front of the orchestra and treated the audience to a sly and jazzy little piece as an encore.
The Mahler First Symphony ended things with more forest idylls, but it was flecked with fairytale nightmare and regal triumph. The brass benches were augmented by the four Huddersfield horn players – making eight horns among this sixty-strong orchestra. In a well-judged theatrical touch the eight horns stood during the overwhelming last five minutes of the Mahler, adding their golden whoops as a magnificent flourish to an epic symphony.
Rob Barnett, November 2014
Saturday June 28th 2014, Todmorden Town Hall
A capacity audience greeted the end of season Rhythm & Film concert given by Todmorden Orchestra at Todmorden Town Hall.
In the first part Nicholas Concannon Hodges directed two concert pieces from U.S. composers, each taking a postcard pitch at pre-Castro Cuba and 1930’s Mexico. Copland’s El Salon Mexico and Gershwin’s little heard Cuban Overture were difficult pieces. The tricky rhythms of the Gershwin on occasion tripped up the fifty-strong orchestra. As to the spirit of the music that came across splendidly with the Copland deeply enjoyable and provoking affectionate smiles especially for the work of the four French horns and the contributions of the clarinet and trumpet leaders.
An extremely polished, delicately coloured, jazzy and zippy Deltour Harp Concertino from soloist Maxine Molin-Rose proved quite a discovery. It did nothing but please. The orchestra which was extended to include a drum-kit did not put a foot wrong.
After the interval, Moross’s The Big Country was majestically emphatic making the audience wonder if that thunderous brass playing would shake the peeling plaster-work on the left-hand side of the gloriously ornate ceiling. The orchestra’s star moments included magnificent playing from clarinet and trumpet principals. Mr Killian’s trumpet ought to be let loose on the theme from Dynasty.
There were other highlights: the sway and swing developed in Nothing Like a Dame, the superbly poised piccolo solo at the heart of the ET music, leader Andrew Rostron’s warmly bathed silvery solo in Schindler’s List, and the triumphant romp from Pirates of the Caribbean. Also memorable was the lustre and unsentimentally paced strings in Maria from West Side Story and the Hollywood shimmer in John Williams’ Flying Theme.
It is no wonder that the conductor spent time at the end walking round the stage and getting principal by principal and section by section to stand for the applause.
Rob Barnett, June 2014
Saturday March 15th 2014, Todmorden Town Hall
Todmorden again experienced a fine concert on Saturday night when the full Todmorden Town Hall was treated to nothing short of a great performance of Sibelius’s most popular symphony at the end of a concert that began with a creaky Brahms overture.
The spirit of the music was nicely put across, responding to the tension, professorial pomp and student irreverence of the piece. Unfortunately the orchestra, especially the brass, seemed out of sorts. It’s a tough piece, being prone to problems of balance given Brahms’ sometimes dense orchestration. On the other hand, the strings, who proved one of the heroes of the night, sang out with pleasing clarity.
Next, the stage thinned out for Richard Strauss’s Oboe Concerto. The orchestra had reduced strings, pairs of woodwind and two French horns. The music owes its almost constant lyrical character to Mozart but there’s also a dash of Rosenkavalier-style romance. Whoever chose the soloist, Hannah Morgan, did well. On this evidence she will go on to an illustrious career. In a work where poetry predominates over fireworks Morgan unwaveringly held the attention and was most attentively supported. One grumble: towards the end of this three movement piece the oboe was rather overwhelmed by the orchestra.
Sibelius’s Second Symphony is an audience pleaser and that’s exactly what it did. It can seem long-winded, but not this time. Phrasing was most carefully taken and the effect was telling. This is music of out and out romantic nationalism from a very full orchestra. There lies one criticism: there were a couple of occasions where a larger string complement would have produced a more gorgeous sonority. As it was they did superbly especially in catching so very well the composer’s trademark steely-slatey sound. The whole orchestra revelled in the impetuosity and grand sweep of this work as well as those in carefully calculated hesitations, shudders, shivers and speed variations. There was a lovely sense of poise and one notable example of this came in the second movement where the cornet-toned first trumpet calls out across a Nordic landscape of rustling strings. The brass were magnificent throughout.
Short of Beecham’s famous live recording I have not heard a better performance of this well-loved work. Todmorden and Calderdale can take real pride in having an active orchestra that can rise to these heights.
Rob Barnett, March 2014
Saturday December 15th 2013, Todmorden Town Hall
The recent concert of Christmas music and carols at the Todmorden Town Hall was a delightful occasion. The Todmorden Orchestra and the Todmorden Choral Society under their conductors Nicholas Concannon Hodges and Antony Brannick, provided a varied programme old, new, and variations thereof, which allowed a significant audience participation. Everyone played and sang with such verve and gusto from the opening of O Come, O Come Emmanuel to the final boisterous closing of We wish you a Merry Christmas.
We are fortunate to have fine local musicians who specially arranged some of the music for us. Christopher Irvins’s Reindeer Rondo with its enthusiastic sleigh bells playing by the audience led by children guided by Heather Hudson was the first. Lawrence Killians’s Shepherd’s Pipe Carol with sparkling flute obbligato played by Lynda Robertson, and his Festive Selection no3 which allowed the orchestra to play many well loved favourites in quite different guises, were others. They did full justice to the latter, with fine playing from all sections.
I have never heard the choir sing so beautifully, with well-balanced voices, warmth, sweetness and sensitivity, and such clear diction that we could actually hear the words. The highlights for me were the audience singing so whole-heartedly, even new variations and in canon, tunes they didn’t even know, skilfully conducted by Nicholas, and the orchestra’s playing of Lawrence’s Festive Selection in so many different moods, from quietly reflective / beguiling to such jazzy rhythms that I wanted to get up and dance!
The choir’s memorable unaccompanied singing of their chosen carols including the lovely We Three Kings with tenor solo sung by Patrick Smith, and the utterly beautiful Berlioz’s Shepherds Farewell were other high spots. What a splendid way to wish us all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Congratulations and thanks to all those concerned.
Katherine Adler, December 2013
Saturday November 19th 2013, Todmorden Town Hall
Todmorden Orchestra gave another example of what they are able to achieve at last Saturday’s autumn concert. The programme was demanding and the audience which filled Todmorden Town Hall gave an enthusiastic reception to the hard work put in by soloist, orchestra and conductor.
The evening opened with Tchaikovsky’s Marche Slave and from the first opening rumble to the triumphant climax the orchestra demonstrated its ability to vary levels of excitement with moments of calm, responding to the atmosphere of the piece. With sixty-five players they ably reflected the changing moods of the march with its Eastern tones. We all knew the big tuning was coming …. and when it did the orchestra delivered everything you were expecting!
There was a change of programme for the concerto, as the much admired Martyn Jackson was indisposed. His place was taken at comparatively short notice by the Polish violinist, Bartosz Woroch. And no-one went away disappointed, as could be heard in the cheers which greeted his completion of the technically challenging Violin Concerto no2 by Prokoviev. Maintaining a personal interpretation, the audience was drawn into the music more as participants than spectators in the collaborative nature of this performance.
The concerto is scored for a reduced number of players, and was largely quiet in delivery. Tension was achieved by the different sections with rhythm and tempo deliberately paced to maintain where needed the understated mood of the opening. Bartosz played with little conspicuous bravura but great technical prowess. Overall Bartosz Woroch showed unfailing attention to execution whilst the orchestra, alternating fluidity and thrusting sequences, showed essential restraint and an impressive level of musicianship.
The symphony, Rachmaninov’s First, and no mean piece for this orchestra, which has repeatedly shown itself capable of doing justice to its chosen repertoire, takes full advantage of what we have come to identify as some of the hallmarks of Rachmaninov: huge dynamic and tempo contrasts, the interplay of the different sections, the exploitation of those sections’ strengths, constant introduction of the unexpected, no passage allowed to extend, the manipulation of the audience who is repeatedly forced to ask, “What will he do next?” and, moments later, finds out.
Last word to the conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges: “Were you satisfied” – “There are always corners.” Nick, trust the audience: the corners are getting fewer and further between. Well done!
Tony Caffrey November 2013
Saturday June 22nd 2013, Todmorden Town Hall
A cool and damp summer evening saw Todmorden Town Hall with a good audience for the latest concert by the Todmorden Orchestra, led by Andrew Rostron.
The programme began with an overture favourite – The Barber of Seville by Rossini. This sparkling work is full of verve and panache with many of Rossini’s characteristic signatures. On this occasion the long crescendos would have benefited from greater contrast but individual solo lines were well – played.
Next, we were treated to much darker colours in the Wesendonck Lieder by Richard Wagner. Soprano soloist Nicola Howard soon began to fill the hall with her controlled and carefully phrased singing. The depth she brought both in terms of her voice, and also the emotional drama within the music, was evident. These song settings were wonderfully supported by the orchestra and the balance was maintained throughout by conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges.
If there had been shortcomings in the overture, the orchestra had settled in the Wagner and by the time of the dark opening of the final work in the programme, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, they were on fine form. This is a hugely demanding work. Not just physically but emotionally as well.
The first movement was secure and the rich string writing of the opening was well played. The second movement was thrillingly played. The opening horn solo – one of the finest in the repertoire – was beautifully played by Denise Bamford with much emotion apparent in the audience. At the climax of the movement, with a massive and passionate crescendo typical of the composer, there was a real sense of release.
There were some ensemble issues in the lighter third movement but the dark entry of the clarinets towards the end was well controlled. The final movement continued the dramatic nature of the work with the opening section well-defined. This time though, we were heading towards the light. The final flourish which concluded the symphony was full of excitement.
This was a committed and passionate performance from the orchestra. One looks forward to their next concert in November when an all-Russian programme will be heard.
Saturday March 2nd 2013, Todmorden Town Hall
Enjoying a taste of the classics….
The idea that Todmorden Orchestra should perform two concerts on the same day in the Town Hall, with one especially for children, may have seemed risky when it was first proposed, but it turned out to be inspirational. Whatever the criteria are for a successful day, last Saturday’s events ticked all the boxes.
Did the audience come to see Anne Widdecombe, now established as a ‘personality’, out of curiosity, did they know that Todmorden now has a high class orchestra which guarantees quality, or were they aware of the popular music on offer? It doesn’t matter because they filled the Town Hall for both performances, and in the afternoon the sight of so many young children, well behaved and responding to the conductor’s questioning, would have gladdened many a heart.
All the musical items on offer seemed to stay within the children¿s attention span. The evening audience were sufficiently knowledgeable to avoid the pitfall of inappropriate applause. Both performances had more or less the same programme, opening with Roger Quilter’s Children’s Overture with its interweaving of nursery rhyme favourites, followed by the main attraction, Tubby the Tuba.
Described as a story told in music, it requires a narrator and of course, a tuba, plus the backing of various instruments. Anne Widdecombe told the story and her task required precision timing to co-ordinate with the orchestra. Although her frog impressions were not totally convincing, close attention to the conductor’s left hand direction produced an excellent and confident performance. Andrew Griffiths’ Tubby took us through the emotions of sadness, pity, hope and then joyful acceptance as the whole orchestra played his tune. Andrew Sheldon added his singing voice to part of the story.
The orchestra, larger than usual and with many young faces, were then able to demonstrate why they have acquired such a fine reputation. Starting with Edvard Grieg¿s Peer Gynt Suite all the sections were given the chance to impress, but in the second and third movements the strings took their opportunity with great aplomb. They then had to put down their bows and pluck merrily and confidently in the pizzicato part of the Sylvia Suite by Delibes. The chosen programme meant there was some individual playing, some sectional emphasis and then rip-roaring ensemble. We also heard the welcome sound of the harp.
The overture Orpheus in the Underworld by Offenbach completed the programme and it gave the ever-reliable leader, Andrew Rostron, a chance to delight us with a lovely interpretation of the beautiful melody that precedes the famous Can-Can finale.
Nicholas Concannon Hodges maintained his unruffled calm throughout the day and his clear direction enabled the performers to produce music of the highest quality. A clear space in the front of the orchestra, a hint to be ready for some fun and some well-spread rumours meant that the appearance of the can-can dancers did not comes as a surprise, and they rounded off the evening in a splendid athletic fashion. Most of the audience were relieved that Miss Widdecombe did not join in!
First time matinee concert a real hit
The concert was the first time in living memory that the orchestra had performed a matinée. They felt that working with artist Lesley Alston, who designed the Tubby the Tuba drawing which saw entries from Year 1 to Year 8 pupils from seven local primary schools, and the contribution made from the Dawn Chapman School of Dance, DC Dance, this was a real community show.
Most pieces were tailored to keep the children¿s interest and both matinée and evening performances were packed, and they were delighted with the success of the event. The aim was partly to introduce children to classical music and maybe take up an instrument. Conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges spoke about the instruments and after the matinée a lot of children took the opportunity to take a closer look at them. It caught the imagination and was featured in a television news piece on ITV’s Calendar.
16th December 2012, Todmorden Town Hall
It is sometimes said that nostalgia is not what it used to be, but at Christmas time it is as good as ever because the memories and traditions of our childhood continue in most cases through our parentage and grand-parentage. We get our excitement at this time in many ways and for different reasons but well loved Christmas music and carols continue to endure and endear.
It was expected that Todmorden Orchestra and Todmorden Choral Society would provide us with a musical hamper full of festive fare in last Sunday’s performance in the Town Hall. It was slightly disappointing to find no young voices on offer but enough was in there for a satisfying feast. As Semprini used to say there were “old ones, new ones, loved ones and neglected ones” and we are not talking about members of the choir.
The first announcement was that Nicholas Connanon Hodges was indisposed and Christopher Irvin would take his place as conductor of the orchestra at very short notice. The players, responding to his bidding with great concentration, expertly overcame the problems that such a situation can cause.
Settling in with a delightful version of We Three Kings arranged by, and trumpet solo by, Lawrence Killian, we then heard Tales from the Vienna Woods where the conductor was able to give a modest impression of a left-handed Andre Rieu, the popular Strauss interpreter. The next piece of music was the conductor’s own Southwell Sleigh Ride when the audience was invited to shake, rattle and roll, at the appropriate moment, anything that might sound like sleigh bells.
In the second half of the performance the orchestra played excerpts from the Nutcracker Suite by Tchaikovsky and this gave different sections a chance to demonstrate their undoubted talents. All were excellent and the response of the audience indicated their appreciation. Christopher Irvin deserves the highest praise for his ability to step in at short notice, direct the orchestra through some far from easy music and control everyone in the carol singing. All with a smile on his face. His task was made easier by the composed competence of leader Andrew Rostron.
It might be interesting to find out what the choir had to drink during the interval because they were much more impressive in the second half of the performance. In the first half Antony Brannick conducted five pieces including The Holly and the Ivy and Christmas is Coming and then followed with the Hallelujah chorus from Handel’s Messiah. Although that chorus is always uplifting it is less inspirational as a single item.
The second half started with another chorus from Messiah, For Unto Us a Child is Born and this was excellent. The nativity theme continued with more impressive singing in music by John Rutter and John Joubert. Preferences are always subjective but I just thought O Men from the Fields by Arnold Cooke was outstanding.
10th November 2012, Todmorden Town Hall
A remarkable concert of 19th century masterpieces was presented by Todmorden Orchestra to a packed Todmorden Town Hall on Saturday. The orchestra seems to have an even more assured delivery as it embarks on its 2012/13 season.
The programme was launched traditionally with an overture. Dvorak’s In Nature’s Realm deserves to be more widely known. A ramble through Hardcastle Crags comes to mind: the abundance of fresh air, perfectly captured by gossamer strings and wind allowed piquant solos for oboe and cor anglais to waft effortlessly through the richly-harmonious ‘fresh air’! All round there was great sensitivity.
A brilliant tour de force followed with Mendelssohn’s great and popular violin concerto. This was performed by a gifted soloist from Brazil, Leon Keuffer, at present a student at Chetham’s School of Music. At just 17, his career is one to watch. A sweet, magical tone drew the audience in for a rare and moving performance of formidable flair and poignancy. Even at such a tender age, he produced moments of almost unbearable emotional intensity. His technical accomplishment created security in musicians and audience alike, as we revelled in a truly uplifting journey. This is the highest achievement of great music making.
Not surprisingly, for the second half, the orchestra was emboldened, finding renewed inspiration and vigour. Brahms’ Fourth Symphony is monumental, making great demands on the players. The fine balance previously mentioned was again evident.
The highly original first movement was suitably powerful and dramatic. The second brought exquisite horn-playing, and some of the finest ensemble work from the strings I have ever heard in Todmorden.
The popular third movement Scherzo is very accessible, and was executed with panache. The concluding movement (really a large set of variations on a chorale theme) develops into a characteristic Brahmsian sound-world of epic proportions.
This concert was an outstanding achievement, under the faultless guidance of conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges, and leader Andrew Rostron. This orchestra is going from strength to strength and is able to tackle the most demanding music. Residents are fortunate to hear such first-class performances (and programmes) on their doorstep, and long may they continue.
23rd June 2012, Todmorden Town Hall
Grand Opera Gala
Riding on the crest of the wave created by the recent Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebrations, Todmorden Orchestra produced the fun, party atmosphere and good music they promised to the near capacity audience at the concert they performed last Saturday in Todmorden Town Hall. Playing to their usual high standard they surely satisfied the “play ussumaht we know” brigade and premiered a piece by a local composer which did not seem out of place in the overall theme.
The Crown Imperial March by Oldham’s very own William Walton was a rousing opening. Elgar’s Nursery Suite was composed in 1931 specifically for the Royal princesses. Gently played by the orchestra with some impressive solo contributions the seven themes were identified with great clarity.
The sound of a crystal clear trumpet resonating round the Town Hall usually has the spine tingling effect on most people. It certainly did for me in Purcell’s Trumpet Tune. Well over 300 years old, the music justifies its position as a favourite for royal celebrations. Lawrence Killian was responsible for the virtuoso trumpet solo. Absolutely splendid. The first half ended with more Walton. Some difficult syncopation posed no problems for the players.
Before the eagerly awaited singing and flag waving, the second half gave us variety of music from various composers, three of whom were present. Christopher Irvin was hearing his Summer Serenade played publicly for the first time. He confessed to me afterwards that the orchestra had successfully portrayed the musical pictures he had painted around a simple tune, a delightful piece bringing us the essence of summer.
Alan Hawkshaw has been responsible for much film and TV music and Best Endeavours was recognised as the tune for Channel 4 news. It was more modern than the other pieces but demonstrated why he has been so universally popular. The third movement of Lawrence Killian¿s Ted Hughes Suite added a further dimension to the concert.
Eric Coates composed The Three Elizabeths Suite in the 1940s and we heard the last movement, which was dedicated to the then Princess Elizabeth. Like the whole concert this was ‘brand Britain’. After several more pieces, it was out with the flags. Even Jerusalem had most of the audience jumping to their feet and stretching the vocal chords. The section of Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance which heralds the start of Land of Hope and Glory is usually a case of “wait for it – wait for it!” and then it is played at a pitch too high or too low for most voices. But who cared? Double forte was the order of the day and double forte it was when the moment arrived. The evening ended with both verses of the National Anthem and was a fitting conclusion.
Nicholas Concannon Hodges conducted the large orchestra with his usual elegant composure and gave each section their chance to shine. Soloists all had their moment of glory. Andrew Rostron, the excellent leader, demonstrated why his fellow players hold him in such high regard. This was a concert to celebrate local and national talent and was unashamedly British.
Trevor Driver, June 2012
17th March 2012, Todmorden Town Hall
The audience at the Todmorden Orchestra concert on Saturday night left the Town Hall with their ears literally ringing and fully believing that the roof had been blown offr!
The pleasant and short first half was followed by the relentless music of Bruckner’s Fourth Symphony ‘The Romantic’. There was certainly no question of sitting back and letting the music “wash over you” for the audience.
The concert began with Mozart’s ‘Magic Flute’ overture. This piece demands secure ensemble work and this was amply demonstrated once the orchestra was in its stride.
The concerto composed by Weber for the bassoon was probably new to most of the audience. The orchestral opening of the Allegro perhaps lacked definition with its dotted rhythm. The second subject, reminiscent of a theme from Beethoven’s cello and piano sonata in F major was well played. Rosemary Cow demonstrated the superb and varying colours of her instrument throughout its range. The lyrical sound of the bassoon was well demonstrated in the Adagio slow movement, and here the orchestra under its conductor, Nicholas Concannon Hodges was well balanced.
After the interval, whilst Beethoven’s Sixth symphony is obviously ‘Pastoral’ the same cannot be said of this Bruckner symphony in relation to its title. If ever a team depended on one person to achieve its objective, then credit must be given on this occasion to the first horn player. The opening horn solo setting out clearly the distant and mellow hunting call was only the start of a series of important entries all of which were well played. But this was a huge undertaking and every single player is required to perform to the highest level. Todmorden Orchestra, albeit with some outside augment, is regularly performing now at a high and enviable standard. Credit must be given to the whole brass section which was much to the fore throughout, and the string section, ably led by Andrew Rostron, had to be on their mettle throughout.
The final section grew in intensity until the final series of chords leaving the audience for a moment spellbound and stunned before rapturous applause broke out, Nick appropriately calling attention to each section to take the applause.
Antony Brannick, March 2012
12th November 2011, Todmorden Town Hall
Rivers and Remembrance framed Saturday’s packed concert. Smetana’s Ma Vlast is a patriotic, poetic and testing celebration of the river that is to Prague what the Thames is to London. The music rises in mellifluously swirling, intricate eddies. It’s an unforgiving piece with which to warm up a concert and Concannon Hodges took it quickly. In loud sections details became opaque which in part is down to the reverberant acoustic.
Armenian composer Arutiunian’s testing trumpet concerto was played by Brian McGinley. This had first been intended for a soloist who was killed during World War 2. Some of the climactic orchestral writing in the first movement has tremendous symphonic weight. At one point McGinley’s invincible brilliance had to compete with it to be heard over the Shostakovich-style heroics. The middle movement was a beguiling Central-Asian fusion of Blues and Borodin.
After this came Ballet suite 4 by Arutiunian’s teacher Shostakovich: This three movement light-hearted suite is drawn from the ballets and film scores. The first of these is The Limpid Stream – rivers again. The middle movement starts with Tchaikovskian balletic delicacy and rises to a rousingly big noise.
After the interval the 57 strong orchestra turned to a composer they have championed before. In June 2009 they gave an excellent reading of Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony. A London Symphony was dedicated to the composer George Butterworth killed by a sniper on the Western Front in 1916. It opens with the merest murmur and rises to a thunderous whirlwind. By no means picture-postcard stuff the music is often sinister, murderous and infernal rather in the manner of Peter Ackroyd’s London and Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. The 12-strong brass were exemplary in phalanx as well as individually and by section just as the Todmorden catchment has come to expect. The magically hushed backdrop for the deeply moving cor anglais in the second movement and the brief duo between the leader and harpist at the end of the first were sensitively done. It’s a work shot through with tragic march episodes: bloodied but unbowed. The extended silence after the epilogue before the first burst of applause was eloquent. If the quiet moments were laced with distant bells from St Mary’s it remains an indelibly memorable evening especially for a remarkably fine performance of the Vaughan Williams.
Rob Barnett November 2011
June 25th 2011, Todmorden Town Hall
Grand Opera Gala
A delightful programme for a summer evening was given at the Town Hall by the Todmorden Orchestra, conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges, Todmorden Choral Society, conductor Anthony Brannick, and soloists Thérèse Vincent, soprano, and Gary Martin, baritone.
As it’s not possible to do justice to every item, I have chosen some of the highlights: Thérèse Wincent’s lyrical “Russalka” sensitively echoed, in parts, by the flute and clarinet, “La Traviata” the singing beautifully capturing Violetta’s conflicting emotions, also effortlessly sailing through coloratura passages. Lehar’s “Meine lippen, sie kussen so heisse” was deliciously and playfully beguiling. Ms Vincent sang with lovely warmth and sweet tone, very expressive of the different characters’ feelings.
Gary Martin’s rich voice, dynamic range and sensitivity, took us by storm from the first note to the last: the agile “Figaro” with his wit and dash, the proud “Toreador” sweeping all before him, and the beguiling “Don Giovanni” contrasted greatly with his “Germont” conveying warmth and kindness, yet inflexible strength of the father towards his son, protecting his “best interests”. Having such a magnificent opera singer in our town hall was almost unbelievable!
The Orchestra, opening in fine style, with Wagner’s “Meistersingers’ Prelude”, played throughout the evening, also supporting soloists and choir. This included some fine solos from cor anglais in Russalka, trumpet in Aida’s “Grand March” and bassoon in “La ci darem la mano”. The Polonaise from “Eugene Onegin” was full of verve and panache with woodwinds tripping in cheerful harmony in contrast to the warmly lyrical cello section playing as one! and the Barcarolle from “Tales of Hoffmann” with its lovely unison string playing so pleasantly soothing in contrast to the fiery Toreador.
“The Polotsvian Dances” with lovely clarinet flute and oboe solos, wild dance, then the much loved “stranger in paradise” melody, beautifully sung by the choir, the underlying quietly galloping pulse blossoming into full orchestra with rich brass and percussion ensemble, the cross rhythms, and full throated choir, was a truly wonderful finale.
Then as if that were not enough, an encore: a duet from the “Merry Widow”: The image of that charming couple singing and dancing together so gracefully and harmoniously was the “icing on the cake”!
What a feast: our own orchestra and choral society pulling out all their stops and two superb opera singers utterly delighting us. This was one of the most enjoyable summer concerts we have had.
March 19th 2011, Todmorden Town Hall
You can listen to a recording any time, but it can’t replicate the experience of a live performance. This was what a packed Town Hall was treated to by Todmorden Orchestra under their conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges and leader Andrew Rostron on Saturday evening. We watched the fiddlers’ bows fly, we felt as much as heard the heavy brass, and we had the privilege of listening to some fifty amateur musicians playing for pleasure.
The evening started with Schubert’s Rosamunde Overture. In the introductory bars the principal wind players set the scene with beautiful tone and spot-on tuning. The orchestra made good use of varied dynamics, and the brass were rich and well-balanced.
Mozart may not have written much for flute but it was not for want of ability. His concerto for flute and harp allows both these instruments to show off their best features and our soloists in it this evening, Charlotte Walls and Louise Thomson, were a delight.
Charlotte’s tone was silvery whether she was trilling on the flute’s high notes or languishing in the lower register, whilst Louise let the harp ring out in its trademark arpeggios from bass notes to tinkling top strings. The orchestra produced a good Mozart sound and supported the soloists well without ever swamping them.
The shifting sand that is Brahms’ First Symphony with its constantly changing sky of sunshine and dark clouds and an ever-present sense of unease is no easy terrain but the orchestra succeeded in navigating a sure course through it despite the odd danger moment. Light and dark were well painted in the shifts in dynamic and from major to minor, sometimes within the space of a bar. The violins were particularly sweet in the second movement, and in the third the trumpet rang out like a clarion.
In the final movement it was the cellos’ turn to set the ominous tone with a well-measured pizzicato passage. Then out of this rose the first horn’s beautifully played solo. The closing tutti passage was a triumph of ensemble playing.
Heather Spencer, March 2011
November 13th 2010, Todmorden Town Hall
Stirring music receives a rousing reception
On an evening when the world had received news of the release from house arrest of the Burmese opposition leader Ang san su chi, a full audience was present at Todmorden Town Hall to hear a performance by Todmorden Orchestra under the direction of Nicholas Concannon Hodges of music by two composers who had demonstrated how their music could harness and encourage nationalist feelings in the 19th century.
The concert opened with perhaps the most famous of all nationalist outpourings – Finlandia by Sibelius. From its first performance it achieved a rousing reception and there was appreciative applause from the audience too on this occasion.
The dark and brooding opening with menacing chords form the brass was well played and as the pace picked up the fanfares from the trumpets were particularly well focussed. When the main hymn-like theme emerged, tranquil and soothing, there was good ensemble work from first the woodwind and then the strings, with careful phrasing.
Extensive use of the timpani througout the piece clearly portrayed the stirrings of feeling so well received by those first audiences in what was then a part of Russia. One was left though with a feeling of understatement on this occasion, the passion of those feelings somehow not quite coming through.
The solo item in the programme was the Cello concerto by Dvorak, played by Stephanie Oade. Here we were treated to a committed performance from the soloist.
Dvorak’s importance as a nationalist composer is noteworthy as his music captures the character of the people and the countryside of middle Europe with its forests and rivers. The lengthy opening, during which the strings were sometimes overwhelmed by the brass, was followed by a virile and vigorous first entry from the soloist.
The cello as a solo instrument with orchestra carries with it difficulties in terms of balance. It has a wide musical range not all of which can be heard over a full orchestra – hence Dvorak’s known reluctance to commence writing such a work. His skill in overcoming this obstacle was amply demonstrated on this occasion and although the soloist might have appeared to have been working very hard, her tone and accuracy shone through.
There were many instances throughout when the cello performed against smaller groups of instruments and support from those instruments was carefully and excellently played, particularly the flute and horn. The adagio was marred a little by an untidy opening from the winds but we were soon conveyed into a landscape of dark forests and streams with a beautiful and sensitive sound form the soloist.
The finale with its driving martial rhythm returned to the virile feeling of the opening movement and the soloist had a clear definition of tone, accuracy of tuning and a real commitment to the music. The duet towards the end with the orchestra leader Andrew Rostron was beautifully played by both.
The second half of the programme consisted of the symphony in D minor by Cesar Franck. The orchestra soon had us gripped in the Gothic darkness of the opening Lento as the harmonic shifts created a real tension released by the Allegro section which followed. Here was secure playing by the players.
The second theme with its bright shining character was like a piercing ray of sunlight through the black clouds of a passing storm. There was clarity despite the rich orchestral writing.
The slow movement featured a duet between harp and cor anglais, a combination excellently played here. At times there was some uncertainty in the delicate writing for the strings. The Finale had both energy and brightness, the mood gloriously optimistic after the darkness of the earlier movements.
Overall then yet another performance of an accomplished amateur orchestra of which we should be justly proud – and Nick Concannon Hodges is to be congratulated in the results achieved.
Anthony Brannick, November 2010
June 26th 2010, Todmorden Town Hall
Todmorden’s own orchestra under Nicholas Concannon Hodges once again turned in a feel-good summer concert at Todmorden Town Hall.
The programme inhabited the unfashionable and slightly mumsy ‘These you have loved’ territory of forty years ago: nothing wrong with that. The emphatic Copland Fanfare for the Common Man stands a little to one side from the other pieces.
The concert title was ‘Classical Favourites’ reflecting nine shorter pieces off-set by the Mozart Clarinet Concerto in which the world class soloist, Catriona Scott, held the hall in entranced silence despite at least one obligato from a police siren. Among many treasurable moments the whisper-quiet playing of the strings in the Mozart was sheer magic.
The players did suffer the odd intonational problem but they had to contend with a hall which does not flatter when the rafters are shaken as in the Copland Fanfare. Fortissimo moments tend to smudge. Even so, the orchestra did Tod proud.
The Vaughan Williams Wasps overture is typically English and was lovingly put across but the pleasingly diaphanous Banks of Green Willow from the same genre shone yet more effectively: what a grievous loss was George Butterworth’s death in 1916. The crucial role of the harp in the Butterworth and elsewhere was taken by electrictronic keyboard consummately well played by Anthony Brannick.
The Saint-Saens Bacchanale from Samson and Delilah is one of those pieces where you know the music but may not be able quite to put your finger on who wrote it or what it is.
Ronald Binge and his Elizabethan Serenade represented British light music. It was serenely done: floating limpid and lighter than air. Charm and a sort of sly innocence characterised the Clog Dance from Hérold¿s La Fille Mal Gardée.
The two Copland extracts from Rodeo were done with zest. The gunshots and boozy cowboys were vividly put across by enthusiastic percussion and a star turn from the principal trombone. Even so, two such pieces one after the other were too much of a good thing.
To bring the curtain down – or the can-can skirts up – we had Offenbach’s overture Orpheus in the Underworld. This was snappily well done in the raucous and rhythmically resting final section and in the magnificently handled and poetic woodwind solos.
Look forward to future concerts and support this valuable orchestra in times likely to be increasingly strained for the performing arts.
Rob Barnett, June 2010
March 20th 2010, Todmorden Town Hall
Todmorden Orchestra gave a superb exhibition of musical style and period, from Mussorgsky’s well known ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ to the world première performance of Andrew March’s ‘Elegy’.
The spring concert programme at Todmorden Town Hall started with the ever popular L’Arlesienne Suite no.2 (Bizet) with its weighty opening giving way to some lyrical playing by flute and piccolo over controlled strings. Conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges led a well defined ‘Intermezzo’, teasing our every bit of emotion before the harp and duet in the third movement ‘Minuet’ delighted the audience. The opening force of the last movement ‘Farandole’ was looking to surge ahead from the start, but was well-held by the tenacious percussion section.
A last minute substitute (yes, it can happen in the world of musical performance) of the vocal soloist, due to ill health, brought the delightful mezzo-soprano voice of Shoshana Pavett to the stage to sing the three songs which form a part of De Falla’s final version of ‘El Amor Brujo’ (Love, the Magician) which also contains the exciting ‘Ritual Fire Dance’ movement. The first song movement ‘Song of the Broken Heart’ began with orchestral strength, but soon the voice broke through and things continued in fine balance, sung in the traditional Andalusian Gypsy Spanish, performed with clarity and precision.
The second part began with March’s Elegy ‘Sanguis Venenatus’ (Tainted Blood), his first-hand musical metaphor for thousands of haemophiliacs given contaminated blood. This one-movement composition reflects well a myriad of emotions through the gradual and ever-changing harmonies within a dynamic arch. The mix of simple and complex textures created a sense of relentless endeavour and inevitable submission, reflective of the composer’s inspiring image of a small bird seized by a buzzard. This was descriptively and ably performed by the orchestral strings alone.
The grand finale piece, Mussorgsky’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’, renowned for its movements describing a number of pictures interspersed with the recurring ‘Promenade’ theme, provided a fitting end to an enjoyable and well-received concert. The opening ‘Promenade’ portrayed by a confident trumpet playing, set the scene for the trip around the exhibition. The suite concluded with some solid playing in the ‘Great Gate of Kiev’, in which Mussorgsky draws on full orchestra to emphasise the strong musical theme heard throughout the movement, to which the audience applauded with great appreciation.
Stuart Issac, March 2010
November 13th 2010, Todmorden Town Hall
Gloom is listed for capacity audience
“Beethoven, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky” read the banner on our Birdcage Walk outside the parish church; and that was enough to fill Todmorden Town Hall almost to capacity, for if anything could outweigh the gloom of a damp and chilly November evening, these masters from the romantic peak of Western orchestral music were the men for the job.
Add fame of our town band under Nick Hodges, now regular conductor in succession to Jack Bednall who “died too young”, and the artistry of our fine young violinist, Martyn Jackson, there was little or no fear of disappointment. And so our hopes were met.
At 82 I enjoyed my first ever hearing of Beethoven’s short overture to the all-but-forgotten drama “The Ruins of Athens”. As a temperate foretaste of the composer’s dramatic style and mastery it was a very good “curtain raiser” and the programmers did well to revive it.
Next came the Sibelius Violin Concerto, one of the Finnish master’s most popular symphonic works, and one which shares the accolade of the best successor to Beethoven’s ineffable concerto for the instrument with those by Brahms and Mendelssohn, Bruch and Tchaikovsky.
We soon found ourselves in the northland, with the soloist’s demi-semiquavers shimmering over quiet background sonorities – perhaps a shade too quiet (or was it the hall’s acoustics, or my impaired hearing which is generally good for music; or an instinctive desire not to eclipse Martyn’s brilliance) – for many ‘flashes of real power’ (Leyton) in the sombre though exhilarating orchestral outbursts and melodic lines.
The slow middle movement shared the Nordic melancholy of the famous “swan” tone-poem and led to a vibrant exciting finale, which was unforgettably described by the essayist Donald Tovey as “a polonaise for polar bears”. I can but quote Jennifer Moorhouse’s programme note about “a waltz rhythm, incredible harmonies and arpeggios” as the performers pressed ahead with flying sparks and warm melodies, “no dance the listener into Finland or whatever Fairyland Sibelius will have us attain” (Tovey).
After the interval came the evergreen Tchaikovsky warhorse-symphony no.4 to take us through menacing Fate, nostalgic memory passionately recalled by the all-girl woodwind section, tipsy daydreaming to plucked strings and the happy ending of a great public rejoicing.
I for one returned home well assured that “What is romantic is imperishable. It will always be, as long as people inhabit the earth”. (Sibelius)
Frank Mc Manus, November 2009
June 20th 2009, Todmorden Town Hall
The French-Belgian theme for Todmorden Orchestra’s summer concert rather suited Todmorden Town Hall with its extravagant Gallic-Pharaonic décor. Not only were we treated to an unhackneyed programme of French music avoiding the more usual Ravel and Debussy but it was also in an unconventional order.
The 52-strong orchestra played Berlioz’s Harold in Italy first. Tamaki Dickenson, the viola soloist, was quite naturally to the fore and played with élan and sufficient force for her instrument to carry across the occasionally intimidating orchestral textures. The conductor, Nicholas Concannon Hodges, in an individual touch placed the harpist (Anna Christiansen) beside Dickenson so that the audience could relish the interplay between the two instruments.
It was a most committed performance in which the soloist and orchestra impressed memorably, especially in the quiet confidences of the ‘March of the Pilgrims’ and the ‘Abruzzi Serenade’.
After the interval Saint-Saens’s skeletally playful Danse Macabre must have raised a few smiles of familiarity – it’s used as the basis for the signature tune for TV’s ‘Jonathan Creek’. The eerie violin solo was dispatched with style by the orchestra leader Andrew Rostron.
Franck’s undulating poetic Les Eolides is a lush early impressionistic piece. Franck’s occasionally Tchaikovskian woodwind was nicely handled.
After this sumptuous offering we come to an orchestral suite from Bizet’s opera Carmen. This is not, however, the familiar sequence beloved of Beecham and others, but ‘big band’ Bizet from the peppery and seductive ballet-arrangement written by Rodion Shcedrin for his wife Maya Pilsetskaya. This is Carmen dazzlingly lit by Bolshoi neon. The original ballet was for a massive string orchestra with a vast battery of percussion. What we heard was the composer’s concert version for full orchestra. Either way it’s a superb choice but extremely demanding. The orchestra emerged from the ordeal with honours. To be innocently divisive, let me single out the first trumpet Gareth Maudling for his long, tense yet smoothly spun solos – breathtaking playing as he negotiated one dangerous corner after another.
The concert was pretty well attended, despite nearby competition that evening from Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ with choral forces joined by the Black Dyke Mills Band. The Todmorden and Calderdale councils can take considerable pride in their well-judged decision to support the fine community orchestra.
Look forward to their concert on November 14th. Tchaikowsky’s smashing Symphony no.4 and Sibelius’s Violin Concerto with local boy made good, Martyn Jackson.
Rob Barnett, June 2009
March 21st 2009, Todmorden Town Hall
Great skills required but Ann and orchestra are in harmony
A packed Todmorden Town Hall was brimming with excitement and curiosity last Saturday at the prospect of one of the nation’s celebrities, the MP Ann Widdecombe, appearing in an orchestral concert.
Ann came to take the part of the narrator in Prokoviev’s timeless children’s classic musical tale, Peter and the Wolf.
As with many of the most popular pieces in the classical music repertoire, this requires some skilful playing on the part of the orchestra. Timing on the part of the narrator, so that the words fit with the music of thenstory as it develops, is crucial. For a politician to take on the role – a person more used to getting across a message and having the last word irrespective of interference from an interviewer – is quite an achievement.
On this occasion, conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges assumed the role of Radio 4’s John Humphreys in keeping the speaker in check! After a slow start Miss Widdecombe soon won over the audience who paid rapt attention to the story of the precocious Peter (strings) and his adventures with the cat (clarinet), duck (oboe), bird (flute), and his grumpy grandfather (bassoon) as they took on the wolf (horns) and captured it before handing it over to the huntsmen with their guns (timpani and bass drum).
The individual characters were all well portrayed by the excellent soloists although at times the technical difficulties of the parts stretched the players. Special mention should go to Lynda Robertson on flute and Diana Monahan whose bassoon playing captured immediately the comical nature of the gruff grandfather.
The audience gave a great reception to Miss Widdecombe at the close of the piece and it was announced that she had waived her fee on this occasion and was to donate proceeds from the sale of her books available at the concert, to the orchestra,
The concert began with St. Paul’s Suite for strings by Holst. This linked nicely with the youthful theme of the first half. Holst wrote this for the pupils of St. Paul’s Girls School in London. The lively jig in the first movement was well played and confident but could have benefited from the players being somewhat more carefree in their playing. In the second section the running ostinato figure was a little tentative at times but the strings managed to maintain it throughout without losing the thread. The intermezzo was beautifully played with the eastern-sounding “outbursts” particularly pleasing.
A sweet duet between the first violin, leader Andrew Rostron, and viola Jenny Sheldon, was sensitively played as was the concluding quartet. The final movement is a very skilful interweaving of the old country dance theme and Greensleeves.
Given that the former is fast and the lively and the latter slow and lyrical it is hard to imagine how they would fit together. Holst must have realised that the first tune can work in both major and minor keys and as the piece slips into the minor the Greensleeves melody emerges almost unnoticed. The orchestra achieved the feat of letting us hear both tunes at the same time without either overwhelming completely the other. The section with the rising chromatic scale increasing the tension towards the end was performed with energy.
In the second half, Fauré’s Masques et Bergamasques was performed by ten wind instruments. This wind band sound was ideal for the Town Hall whose acoustics has often been questioned and clearly do not suit every type of performance. However, this place worked very well and the only difficulty was getting used to the slightly odd harmonies which Fauré developed. The players performed this piece with great skill and the horns were in their element in this setting, appearing as equal partners with the wind section rather than as brass players.
The warmth of colours was greatly appreciated and there was some wonderful lyrical playing particularly in the last movement.
The concert ended with Debussy’s Children’s Corner, rather more usually performed as a piano piece as originally composed. The double basses came to the fore in the lullaby with a very atmospheric tone. The following serenade featured the harp, played by Maxine Molin Rose. Secure playing was the key to the success of this movement. In the ‘Snowflakes are Dancing’ there was a real sense of winter and a feeling of coldness permeated the hall, which was by now quite warm!
The shimmering effect was carried off well. In ‘The Little Shepherd’ the oboe playing of Diana Doherty was beautifully haunting. The final piece showed Debussy embracing the rag time music which was beginning to sweep across from America around the early part of the 20th century. To achieve real effect requires the orchestra to throw off the impressionism of the earlier movements and “jazz it up”, spurred on by the percussion.
This the orchestra did under the excellent direction of Nicholas Concannon Hodges enabling us all to go home buoyed up by the thought of having spent an enjoyable evening “with the children”!
Antony Brannick March 2009
December 21st 2008, Todmorden Town Hall
Christmas Music and Carols with Todmorden Choral Society
Calder Valley music lovers were put in festive spirits on Sunday evening with a splendid performance given by Todmorden Orchestra, conducted by Nicholas Concannon Hodges.
They were joined for a programme of Christmas music and carols at Todmorden Town Hall by Todmorden Choral Society directed by Daniel Bath and the Youth Choir lead by Richard Pomfret. Glen Cannon acted as compere for the evening and made everybody chuckle with his amusing anecdotes.
The evening began with a rousing rendition of Hark the Herald Angels Sing in which the audience heartily joined in. This was followed by a selection from Tchaikowsky’s Nutcracker Suite, performed by the orchestra; the final waltz being the highlight with the strings producing a delightfully warm sound.
The audience was also treated to some lively ‘barbershop’ style arrangements of Winter Wonderland and Makin’ Whoopee from the Youth Choir, which got everybody’s toes tapping!
Rather touchingly, it was announced that the arrangement of Little Donkey was made by conductor Richard Pomfret’s father many years ago. It was marvellous to hear such enthusiastic singing. What a great sound they made, especially when the girls were joined by the boys singing tenor and bass.
There were further highlights to the evening. The Choral Society’s performance of Berlioz’s Shepherd’s Farewell was sonorous and gentle, and it was an added bonus when they hummed the ‘rustic’ instrumental interludes as well. The orchestra’s warmth of sound and lilting rhythm were perfect for Strauss’s Blue Danube Waltz and everybody enjoyed the witty medley of Christmas carols by Leroy Anderson.
There was only one possible way to round off such a festive evening, with We Wish You a Merry Christmas. It certainly was!
Laura Justice, December 2008
8 November 2008, Todmorden Town Hall
The Perfect Fool – Gustav Holst
The Elmet Suite – John Reeman
Ted Hughes Suite – Lawrence Killian
Symphony no.5 – Vaughan Williams
Flamboyance and serenity flanked two new works specially written for the Todmorden orchestra and related to the work of local son, the poet Ted Hughes who died ten years ago.
This was the second all-British concert to be given by the enterprising Todmorden Orchestra in two years. The Victorian Town Hall speaks of pride and industry applied to the arts. Bas relief panels depicting the Muses decorate the lofty roof with its Egyptian style pendant gas light fittings. The hall is soberly magnificent in greens and creams and provides an imposing ambience even if the common areas are beginning to look a little time-worn.
The 54-strong community orchestra conducted by Nicholas Concannon Hodges features a refreshing mix of ages from those in their twenties upwards. While it cannot sustain the sheeny precision and luxury of a fully professional orchestra it produces a pleasing and exciting sound and shows a commitment that communicates to the audience.
The concert opened with Holst’s orchestral spectacular – the ballet music from the opera The Perfect Fool. These elemental dances are extracted from an opera of the same name which sends up wizards, potions, fools and Wagner and does so in voluptuous style. The music revels in Wagnerian magnificence – ask the brass section, especially the trombone players; after all this was Holst’s chosen instrument. For an ex-student of Stanford and the Royal College of Music the style is more Rimsky-Korsakov and de Falla than Brahms. This is the Holst of Beni Mora and The Planets not the austere Holst of Egdon Heath and the Lyric Movement. Even so there was time for some beguilingly chaste solos from viola, cello, cor anglais, flute and clarinet. The finale was marked out by affectingly hushed and sustained quiet playing from the violins. Allowing for some initial splashiness the trombones and tuba distinguished themselves at the start and also in the ripplingly eruptive bow-wave that cleaves through the brass benches, left to right, just towards the close.
The first of two Ted Hughes-centred works was John Reeman’s Elmet Suite – a sequence of five atmospheric miniatures. The Remains of Elmet is mysterious, speaking of desolation with a hint of the heroic. The raucously pointillistic Football at Slack has the orchestra buffeting and buffeted in a howling and shrieking Waltonian gale. The vulnerable confiding shimmer of In April makes a welcome contrast and unnervingly reminded me of kindred writing of Patrick Hadley’s In Taxal Woods in The Hills. Amid this peaceful benediction there is a lovely bassoon solo. The weasels we smoked out of the bank is a rowdy Arnoldian melee with shrapnel flying every which way. After this convulsive discord Reeman bids us farewell with There come days to the hills with its sense of a slow-motion wave cresting and breaking. Its serenity, redolent of Copland, is contrasted with a sign-off of heroically belling brass. Some of this writing was tough going but I had a feeling that this music which was sometimes redolent of Craig Armstrong’s One Minute was closer to Hughes’s spirit than the other new work in the programme. Hughes’s poems which inspired each movement were strongly read by Glyn Hughes although such are the acoustics that it was not always easy to hear him.
The Ted Hughes Suite by Lawrence Killian, the orchestra’s first trumpet, struck me as much more instantly successful and noticeably gripped the affections of the audience. Killian studied with John McCabe and Hans Keller. His Three Lands suite was played at last year’s Tod Proms concert as was Reeman’s Beside the Seaside. The tripartite Hughes suite began with His Youth in which an idyllic summery haze and the sweet rasp of bird-song give way to a lush Ravel-like consonance and an unruly impressionist outburst recalling Frank Bridge’s Enter Spring. His Loves was almost too public in its celebratory extroversion soon offering intimations of the skull beneath the face. An incongruous but utterly enjoyable flouncy soft-shoe shuffle sweeps us into a Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers dance in the long and honourable lineage of British light music. Finally came the deeply impressive Poet Laureate movement with a strongly memorable tune, splendid Waltonian irruptions, rumba percussion and a flourish that brought a smile to the face. This music deserves wide currency. I hope that it receives its due. BBC Radio 3, Classic Fm, ASV Sanctuary, Avie and Naxos really should pay this work some heed. Do not let this superb music slip away.
If Ted Hughes was one theme of the concert then camaraderie was another. Holst and Vaughan Williams were famously close friends from RCM days onwards until separated by Holst’s death in 1934. Vaughan Williams has received considerable attention in this the fiftieth year since his death in 1958. He wrote his Fifth Symphony in the late 1930s and completed it ready for the premiere in the depths of the Second World War. Its seraphic mood is deeply affecting and here it was given masterly pacing and control by Nicholas Concannon Hodges. Allowing for some few wayward moments among the strings and the horns this was a sheerly lovely performance. The horns were predominantly secure even during the most exposed pages. Interestingly the brass seemed to be given a much greater eminence than I had heard in recordings of this work. This Symphony is dedicated to Sibelius and there were some famously Tapiola-like gales from the strings and pages which recalled momentarily Sibelius’s terribly neglected Sixth Symphony. All the playing, but especially that from the strings, conveyed a cogent sense of surge, eddy and flow – a luminous weightlessness that carries the music forward. The third movement was the most serene with Tallis-like textures and some stunning yet poetically understated avian playing from the flute, clarinet and cor anglais. In the finale despite one moment of blurred rhythmic detailing the dancing and buzzing intricacy of the writing was well articulated. This was a superb performance – an apt ending to a strongly rewarding concert and a charm against the chilly rain falling outside.
The Todmorden and Calderdale councils can take pride in this orchestra. This is an orchestra, conductor and management committee that casts a cold eye on complacency and is prepared to embrace adventure and ambition. Long may that continue.
Rob Barnett, November 2008
Autumn concert, 15th November 2007
‘Orchestra’s playing hits majestic heigths, musical Standard is now one of continued excellence’
The drum-roll which heralded the playing of the National Anthem at the start of Todmorden Orchestra’s Autumn concert may have surprised some of the pleasingly large audience and given a small minority the chance to show their non-allegiance, but the majestic quality of the music that followed came as no surprise to the regular listeners of the orchestra. It has risen over the past years from a standard of competence to one of continued excellence. The first item in the performance was Handel’s Water Music and it took us on a royal trip down the river. Although there was an initial wavering, the music flowed throught the six movements with excellent direction and an impressive contribution from the string section. The entrance of horn soloist Evgeny Chebykin was an example to all potential soloists. An engagingly warm smile and confident composure indicated all the essential aspects of the relationship of performer and audience. We waited in anticipation of, and recieved, a wonderful performance of Richard Strauss’s Horn Concerto No. 1. Strauss probably composed the concerto with his horn-playing father in mind, and the three movements continue without respite but with apparent ease.
The soloist’s phrasing never faltered as he took us through the contrasting moods. The support given by the orchestra was never allowed to do anything but complement the soloist and it was a privilege to hear its performance and to join in the well-deserved applause. Nicholas Concannon Hodges does not follow the line of “Flash Harry” style of conducting, preferring to control the orchestra with meticulous care and observation. Never tempted to let forte drift into fortissimo, the attracts credit for contributing so much to another evening of high class music played by instrumentalists who are keen to please and follow his lead. A previous report praised leader Andrew Rostron almost to the point of embarressment for this unassuming violinist. The special applause he received when he leaves the auditorium is superior to words.
The performance of the Symphony No. 2. by Brahms gave all sections of the orchestra a part to play in the varying themes of tranquility, melancholy and joy, of the different speeds and dynamics, and the triumphant ending in a blaze of totality. In the second movement the ensemble of the lower strings with the bassoons was outstanding and the young flautists producing some thrilling moments in the final movement. Highlighting those should not disappoint the rest of the players. The community benefits enormously from the performances of its musicians and those who support with their help. They deserve our gratitude.
Trevor Driver, November 2007
Spring concert, 17th March 2007
‘Splendid mix of music played with real quality’
Todmorden Orchestra made an offer their spring concert would be a splendid mix of music from a dedicated group of musicians – and we would go away from the concert in a happy and optimistic mood.
The offer was accepted by a pleasingly large audience at Todmorden Town Hall and I am convinced the majority would confirm the orchestra kept its promise, if enthusiastic applause was an indicator. Any performance, be it vocal or instrumental, must get off to a good start to put the listener at ease. This task was given to the brass in the opening overture Ruy Blas – and they succeeded. This colourful piece can easily be described as typical Mendelssohn. The appearance of cello soloist John Parsons was greated with eager anticipation, as he took to the stage to play the wonderful Elgar Cello Concerto. Again, first impressions are important and the confidence, competence and obvious enjoyment at sharing his talent with the orchestra and listener, where the characteristics combined to produce those special moments that only live performance can achieve. He had excellent support from the orchestra, but thanks should also be given to the emergency services who kept their sirens quiet and the audience (not a single cough) during the exquisite adagio movement. Perhaps that praise should be extended to the local doctor! I hope John enjoyed his appearance in Todmorden – his performance was certainly appreciated by the audience. The full orchestra was then allowed to demonstrate their all-round abilities in the tone poem En Sage by Sibelius. The strings, woodwind and brass all had their moments of glory – especially clarinetist Lesley Alston, and any critic looking for blemishes should be pointed to the colour, contrast, power and subtlety of this performance of the music of Finland’s great composer. Dvorak’s Czech Suite required a smaller orchestra, with the necessary need for careful ensemble, and a well controlled performance of a variety of dances and folk melodies ended with a rousing and furious finale. Nicholas Concannon Hodges conducts in a simple style were histrionics are not an option, but this direction was immaculate and he only allowed any indulgence where the score demanded it. Sympathetic to the soloist, with clear indications to the players, he contributed to an outstanding evening of music – music tyupical of four popular composers – and a high quality performance typical of Todmorden Orchestra. But the final word of praise goes to Andrew Rostron. often called the unsung hero, this modest and unassuming violinist has given magnificent service as leader to the orchestra and the Choral Society and his excellence should not go unnoticed.
Trevor Driver, March 2007