Music for Spring

23 March 2024
Rob Barnett

“The outer movements brimmed with adrenalin-drenched passion”

With Nick Concannon Hodges recovering from a recent illness, Todmorden Orchestra’s Spring Concert had Connor Lyster on the podium. Lyster, a professional percussionist, is a rising name amongst the northern community orchestras.

The programme – played to the usual capacity audience – mixed soothing pastoralism, furious celebration, and romantic fury. The concert opened with Shostakovich in brash mode … and when he’s brash there’s no mistaking him. The crash and storm of the brief Festive Overture seemed to be much to the orchestra’s taste. It also gave them a boisterous thunderstorm of a piece within which to warm up for the rest of the concert. A few dicey moments at the start did nothing to mask the players’ exuberance. The overture’s quieter passages, including some withering pizzicato, registered amongst the predominant brashness; not to forget the upstart flute and clarinet solos.

Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Greensleeves, with its links with the opera Sir John in Love, has over the years become something of a popular interlude. The Fantasia is very short and sweetly charming. The leisurely unreeling of the great tune was well set up by harp and flute – meriting a special bow for each player at the end.

Though Mediterranean in atmosphere, the Viola Concerto’s credentials are Northern. Walton was an Oldham man, and Beecham, who encouraged the writing a concerto for what was, in the 1920s, an unusual solo instrument, was a product of St Helens. It is in three poetic movements which the violist, Michaela Jones, presented with earnest ardour. Lyster achieved a good balance so that the viola spoke out of the milieu of a sixty-five strong band. Jones’ interaction in the first movement with the principal French horn was strikingly moving. This was the toughest technical challenge for the orchestra among the scores that night and proved the most ambitious.

After the interval, the orchestra and conductor laid into Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony with a will, a flourish and gales of romantic ardour. It is a popular work that demands these treatments and is a sure-fire audience pleaser. The sighing endearments of the slow movement registered well. The outer movements brimmed with adrenalin-drenched passion which recalled the crash of the Shostakovich overture. Memorable were the episodes in the outer movements where the body of strings projected that death-defying Tchaikovskian ‘throb’. This is a mark of authenticity, determined preparation and dedication. Much the same can be said of the pizzicato movement before the onslaught of the finale. The timpanist’s steady heart/drumbeat provided an unerring foundation for the sweet endearments of the second movement.