Autumn concert

Saturday 13 November 2010
Antony Brannick

“Overall then yet another performance of an accomplished amateur orchestra of which we should be justly proud.”

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 throughout 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.