Spring concert

Saturday 15 March 2015
Christopher Irvin Browne

“This concert must be one of the most defining events in the history of Todmorden Orchestra: now a powerhouse of regionally-based, voluntary music-making.”

The orchestra was considerably augmented to create an ensemble of seventy-three players for the second concert in this centenary season. From the outset, it was evident from the lush string resonance that this concert was going to stand out from the many memorable events I have experienced in the Town Hall over the years. Verdi’s La Forza del Destino Overture began the programme traditionally with the warm sound of well-controlled strings, plus expressive woodwind, especially the clarinet – all phrased beautifully. The brass section was impressive too (a key feature of the evening), the piece leading to a thrilling climax with characteristic high string triplets. The curtain was about to rise on an evening of lively, great music!

Tim Benjamin’s well-placed, contrasting string piece followed. Yes, I Remember, written in 2013 – in an accessible yet modernist style – is a memorial tribute to conductor Sir Colin Davis. Richly-sonorous and deeply-felt, there was fine solo violin work from leader Andrew Rostron, and cellist, Frances Moorhouse. Feather-light transitions and a shimmering ending left a lasting impression.

The first half was completed with an accomplished performance by Rachael Gibbon of Weber’s popular Clarinet Concerto No.1, in the significantly-expressive dark key of F minor. Here was masterly playing: a crisp, attractive tone where required, contrasting with darker liquid passages. The balance between orchestra and soloist was tightly-controlled, with a wide range of dynamics, holding the listener’s interest throughout.

The Big Piece after the interval was Shostakovich’s magnificent Fifth Symphony in another dark key (D minor), conducted with great authority by Nicholas Concannon Hodges. The work starts rather bleakly, but with some really tender lyrical sections. The central march unleashes some thrilling brass and manic string writing. The second movement contrasts a naïve, almost child-like melody, with brilliant orchestral exuberance. The truly mournful third movement makes great use of lower strings, but with the harp giving the impression of time dripping away. The final movement is one of extraordinary angst, with some terrific spine-chilling chords of great theatricality (plus lots of effective percussion!). This concert must be one of the most defining events in the history of Todmorden Orchestra: now a powerhouse of regionally-based, voluntary music-making. Aspirations and attainment have brought the orchestra to a position of the highest creativity and prestige. Congratulations to all involved in bringing the finest music to the upper reaches of the Calder Valley.