Todmorden’s Purely Classical concert

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Elgar, Nielsen, Brahms: Frederico Paixão (flute), Todmorden Orchestra / Nicholas Concannon Hodges (conductor). Todmorden Town Hall, Calderdale, 25.3.2023. (RBa)

Frederico Paixão

Elgar – Overture, ‘Cockaigne’, Op.40
Nielsen – Flute Concerto, FS 119
Brahms – Symphony No.2 in D major, Op.73

Adding zest to its 2022/2023 season, and playing to the usual full house, the Todmorden Orchestra, about sixty-strong on this occasion, launched this concert – entitled Purely Classical – with Elgar’s highly variegated and Rubens-rich Cockaigne Overture. It is not an overture to anything but rather a dissolutely coloured and obstreperously noble tone-poem. A challenging choice of opener, it was given with great enthusiasm. The performance was spirited, albeit with rough edges, rather as if the players were warming up to the evening. On the other hand, there were magnificent moments. Let me note a satisfyingly impressive and fruitily elite solo trumpet passage; it seemed to look to Yorkshire’s brass band laurels. It would be good at a future concert to hear the orchestra in Elgar’s In the South.

The Todmorden Orchestra led by Nicholas Concannon Hodges, a true community orchestra, has a reputation for exploring music realms seemingly undreamt of by the UK’s great professional orchestras. With an ensemble now slimmed down, the wind benches were honed to two horns, one tuba and pairs of woodwind, along with the usual complement of strings. The latter are placed, in this hall, on the same level as the audience.

Young Portuguese flautist Frederico Paixão is evidently a star not so much in the making as made. He was a confident and beguilingly commanding presence in Nielsen’s work. Every player seemed to enter immersively into the mercurially tempestuous, buffeting, serene and serenading Flute Concerto. This technically challenging two-movement score has the eerie, the Pan-like, the breezy, the bluff and the catchy holding court pari passu. It is a piece very different from the same composer’s often chilly Clarinet Concerto. One wonders what the other concertos would have been like had Nielsen been spared to complete his project of writing concertos for each of the members of the Copenhagen Wind Quintet. That aside, the flute work has more in common with his Second and Fourth Symphonies than with the Third and Fifth. The orchestra gave every appearance of being extremely well rehearsed. The score went down well, and there was even applause between the two movements. Memorable moments included the soloist’s dialogue with the clarinet; it felt spontaneous rather than calculated, as if the clarinet had been beguilingly incited to respond to the flute.

Brahms’s Second Symphony rounded things off after the intermission. It is not my favourite Brahms Symphony: I prefer the Third and the Fourth. Even so, rather like Mahler’s Fourth the orchestra played a couple of years ago, I was glad to be jolted out of my complacency. The work brought the orchestra back to much fuller forces, including four French horns and tuba. In the first movement, an Allegro (one of three in this work), the famous lullaby was most artfully and heart-easingly shaped and played. I recall especially how the flute embellished the lilting strings. Not for the last time the well-balanced woodwind nicely rounded off the long descent at the end of the movement with collectively a natural sense of melodic fall and inevitability.

While soothing, the second movement suffered somewhat from curdled textures. The gem-like dancing Allegro grazioso raised the spirits – in the oboe solo in particular – and smiles, recalling the gentler Hungarian Dances. As throughout, the conductor’s way with Brahms’s pauses within the movements was especially well judged, never too brief, never over-extended. The finale continued the fine work with cobwebs blown away, great waterfalls of wind playing and euphoric energy overarching all.

Rob Barnett

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