Rivers and remembrance

Saturday 12 November 2011
Rob Barnett

“…an indelibly memorable evening especially for a remarkably fine performance of the Vaughan Williams.”

Rivers and Remembrance framed Saturday’s packed concert. Smetana’s Ma Vlast is a patriotic, poetic and testing celebration of the river that is to Prague what the Thames is to London. The music rises in mellifluously swirling, intricate eddies. It’s an unforgiving piece with which to warm up a concert and Concannon Hodges took it quickly. In loud sections details became opaque which in part is down to the reverberant acoustic.

Armenian composer Arutiunian’s testing trumpet concerto was played by Brian McGinley. This had first been intended for a soloist who was killed during World War 2. Some of the climactic orchestral writing in the first movement has tremendous symphonic weight. At one point McGinley’s invincible brilliance had to compete with it to be heard over the Shostakovich-style heroics. The middle movement was a beguiling Central-Asian fusion of Blues and Borodin.

After this came Ballet suite 4 by Arutiunian’s teacher Shostakovich: This three movement light-hearted suite is drawn from the ballets and film scores. The first of these is The Limpid Stream – rivers again. The middle movement starts with Tchaikovskian balletic delicacy and rises to a rousingly big noise.

After the interval the 57 strong orchestra turned to a composer they have championed before. In June 2009 they gave an excellent reading of Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony. A London Symphony was dedicated to the composer George Butterworth killed by a sniper on the Western Front in 1916. It opens with the merest murmur and rises to a thunderous whirlwind. By no means picture-postcard stuff the music is often sinister, murderous and infernal rather in the manner of Peter Ackroyd’s London and Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. The 12-strong brass were exemplary in phalanx as well as individually and by section just as the Todmorden catchment has come to expect. The magically hushed backdrop for the deeply moving cor anglais in the second movement and the brief duo between the leader and harpist at the end of the first were sensitively done. It’s a work shot through with tragic march episodes: bloodied but unbowed. The extended silence after the epilogue before the first burst of applause was eloquent. If the quiet moments were laced with distant bells from St Mary’s it remains an indelibly memorable evening especially for a remarkably fine performance of the Vaughan Williams.