From Italy to England

Saturday 23 March 2019
Tony Caffrey

“The orchestra handled the transition from the calm, pianissimo and flowing, to the bright, lively and forte peaks and troughs of the different movements with notable delicacy and technical control.”

From the first wind entry with its undercurrent of string pizzicato, Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances developed its courtly ambiance. Variously rhythmic with dynamic changes the orchestra, under the baton of Nicholas Concannon Hodges, evoked the stately variations with good note length, precise and steady control moving from rallentando and pianissimo to a lively and joyous entry. As the movements progressed, one heard the sections dominate and fall away with full-blooded whole orchestra entries, punctuated by brass with bassoon and lower string accompaniment. In the beautiful Campanae Parisienses the harp executed clear and well-articulated passages, the whole surging and diminishing as it flowed towards its serene dying closure. The orchestra handled the transition from the calm, pianissimo and flowing, to the bright, lively and forte peaks and troughs of the different movements with notable delicacy and technical control.

With a piece of music as well-known as Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez there is little room for error. However, soloist Giacomo Susani from the first precise, rhythmic entry remained demonstrably in control throughout, whether playing in parallel to excellent soloists including the intense cello or the haunting, immaculate cor anglais, or the whole orchestra. Susani set the pace throughout, most conspicuously in the slow movement, where time was as of no consequence. Here was complete immersion and the audience held its breath. Overall, it was a memorable performance both from the soloist and the orchestra. An impromptu solo encore occasioned by the enthusiasm of the audience was a piece unknown to me. It was a delicate and ornamental air demonstrating the combination of the lower and upper registers which gives the guitar so much of is range and finesse. Free reign was allowed the soloist before retreating to the fading dénouement.

The Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 by Liszt in its orchestrated guise is probably one of the best loved pieces in the repertory for its drama, variety and tunefulness. The demands on the orchestra are considerable, not least on the clarinet with its tricky sequences, eloquently played. Themes abound, skipping from the dramatic, to the playful, the insistent to the gallop, here pushing ahead, there holding the audience in suspense, off-beat, accelerating, with rapid changes of dynamic. This is a thrilling piece to listen to and the orchestra gave a carefully rehearsed and accomplished performance.

Vaughan Williams’ Wasp Suite is not frequently played. It was a pleasure therefore to hear the different movements. The opening section, after a token reference to the title, moves, as one would expect with VW, to the sophisticated orchestration of a folk tune ranging across the orchestra: horns playing the delicate melody with the strings bringing warmth to a pastoral section of charm and beauty with harp underlay. From there to a growling mood, passed from section to section, the music evolves to the triumphal march. Through the ensuing sections, Vaughan Williams continually shows his imaginative use of instruments for their distinctive qualities: the piccolo, horn, timpani, every section has its moment. A master of variation, whether of instrumentation, or pace, change of rhythm, dynamic, declarative, fragile or whimsical, all are represented with skill, often surprise, and finesse. And the orchestra and conductor made good their interpretation. Well done, Todmorden Orchestra.