New Beginnings

Saturday 20 November 2021
Rob Barnett

“It ended with a glorious blaze from the whole orchestra before the final gentle gesture. All in all, quite an evening and the Dvorak was greeted, as it should be, with delight.”

Old and new worlds jostle in a traditional programme

Todmorden with its motto ‘By Industry We Prosper’ has a gleamingly spruced up town hall which opened for business in 1875. It’s an imposing monument to Lancashire and its cotton spinning and Yorkshire for engineering and agriculture. Until a boundary change in the late nineteenth century it bestrode the two counties.

The orchestra (which could unblushingly adopt the Town Hall’s motto), with its new leader, Jonathan Whitehead, and long-established conductor has a track-record for programming that kicks up the dust. Tonight’s concert however returns to traditional construction elements: overture, concerto, symphony. The component works, this evening, to grace the classical music world without the tremor of unfamiliarity.

Giving its first public concert in two years the orchestra may have had socially distanced seating, but it was typical of this well integrated community 52-strong ensemble that they mingled freely with the audience when not actually playing.

The Brahms overture with its affable pleasantries nursed us into an agreeable familiarity. The joyful French horns proved prominent in the fabric of sound. Speaking of which everyone contributed to a typically gargantuan sound for the ‘Gaudeamus igitur’ finale, rejoicing indeed.

Stage shenanigans and moving of players’ seating was necessitated for the Elgar Cello Concerto; a work which is an established staple. Douglas Badger (playing without score) proved a stirring and sensitive soloist – commanding but also mellifluous. Notable among the more subdued moments was his understated yet poignant dueting with the French horns. The whole was characterised by no little transcendence fuelled by affection.

After quite an extended break, there came Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony. I was not expecting revelations. This is, after all, one of the most familiar and care-worn of symphonies. I was wrong. Nicholas Concannon Hodges savoured every moment and at times induced that sense of hearing a piece for the first time without the wayward or the weird. The spell was cast from the unusually brisk clip at which the opening cello segment was taken. It was a notable gesture and grasped the attention. Time and again the brass ‘choir’ communicated a superbly quiet and ‘centred’ integration. Sensitive solo and section playing, especially by the flutes and cor anglais, proved extremely effective such that the second and third times at which they played were smilingly relished. There was much joy and control in the suave and brave playing in the birdsong ‘interludes’. The dynamism and sheer thrust of the third movement with its crowning flute and clarinet (some exquisite work) paragraphs again affirmed why this work is popular yet fresh. It ended with a glorious blaze from the whole orchestra before the final gentle gesture. All in all, quite an evening and the Dvorak was greeted, as it should be, with delight.

The remainder of the 2021/22 season kicks over the traces with well targeted novelties some of which would raise dust in Manchester, Liverpool, and London. On 19 March 2022 there’s The Land of the Mountain and the Flood by Hamish McCunn and Amy Beach’s Symphony no.2 (The Gaelic). Add to that a return to Malcolm Arnold with that composer’s ineffably beautiful and roisteringly boisterous Scottish Dances. On 25 June 2022 we get to hear Kalinnikov’s First Symphony. When were the Beach and the Kalinnikov last heard anywhere in the UK except perhaps on BBC Radio 3?