Autumn concert

Saturday 12 November 2016
Rob Barnett

“Todmorden Orchestra and Nicholas Concannon Hodges again delivered a demanding and well balanced programme in Todmorden’s magnificent Grade I-listed 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.