Autumn concert

Saturday 13 November 2010
Frank Mc Manus

“We soon found ourselves in the northland, with the soloist’s demi-semiquavers shimmering over quiet background sonorities.”

“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)