Autumn concert

Saturday 7 November
Tony Caffrey

“This persistent driving forward of standards has paid dividends.”

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.