An evening in Vienna

Saturday 20 January 2018
Christopher Irvin Browne

“To sustain an entire evening of inspired, blissful melody is yet another major achievement for this remarkable orchestra.”

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.