Summer concert

Saturday 20 June 2009
Rob Barnett

“It was a most committed performance in which the soloist and orchestra impressed memorably…”

The French-Belgian theme for Todmorden Orchestra’s summer concert rather suited Todmorden Town Hall with its extravagant Gallic-Pharaonic décor. Not only were we treated to an unhackneyed programme of French music avoiding the more usual Ravel and Debussy but it was also in an unconventional order.

The 52-strong orchestra played Berlioz’s Harold in Italy first. Tamaki Dickenson, the viola soloist, was quite naturally to the fore and played with élan and sufficient force for her instrument to carry across the occasionally intimidating orchestral textures. The conductor, Nicholas Concannon Hodges, in an individual touch placed the harpist (Anna Christiansen) beside Dickenson so that the audience could relish the interplay between the two instruments.

It was a most committed performance in which the soloist and orchestra impressed memorably, especially in the quiet confidences of the ‘March of the Pilgrims’ and the ‘Abruzzi Serenade’.

After the interval Saint-Saens’s skeletally playful Danse Macabre must have raised a few smiles of familiarity – it’s used as the basis for the signature tune for TV’s ‘Jonathan Creek’. The eerie violin solo was dispatched with style by the orchestra leader Andrew Rostron.

Franck’s undulating poetic Les Eolides is a lush early impressionistic piece. Franck’s occasionally Tchaikovskian woodwind was nicely handled.

After this sumptuous offering we come to an orchestral suite from Bizet’s opera Carmen. This is not, however, the familiar sequence beloved of Beecham and others, but ‘big band’ Bizet from the peppery and seductive ballet-arrangement written by Rodion Shcedrin for his wife Maya Pilsetskaya. This is Carmen dazzlingly lit by Bolshoi neon. The original ballet was for a massive string orchestra with a vast battery of percussion. What we heard was the composer’s concert version for full orchestra. Either way it’s a superb choice but extremely demanding. The orchestra emerged from the ordeal with honours. To be innocently divisive, let me single out the first trumpet Gareth Maudling for his long, tense yet smoothly spun solos – breathtaking playing as he negotiated one dangerous corner after another.

The concert was pretty well attended, despite nearby competition that evening from Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’ with choral forces joined by the Black Dyke Mills Band. The Todmorden and Calderdale councils can take considerable pride in their well-judged decision to support the fine community orchestra.

Look forward to their concert on November 14th. Tchaikowsky’s smashing Symphony no.4 and Sibelius’s Violin Concerto with local boy made good, Martyn Jackson.