LIVE REVIEW: Todmorden Orchestra: Northern Lights, Todmorden Town Hall, 11th March 2017


This programme, featuring northern composers Sibelius, Delius and Maxwell Davies, demonstrated both the strengths of individual soloists and the cohesion of the orchestra as a whole.

It opened with possibly the best-known piece, Jean Sibelius’ Karelia Suite. This comprised three movements with different moods, an assertive opening, a reflective slow movement, and a lively ending. These illustrated various episodes in Finnish history. An early work, it shows the composer’s ability to create powerful melodies.

Next came a Yorkshire composer, Frederick Delius, with “The Walk to the Paradise Garden”, an interlude in his opera “A Village Romeo and Juliet”, with lovely melodies and a feeling of peace.

Peter Maxwell Davies’ “An Orkney Wedding with Sunrise” starts with a storm; then comes a more stately mood as guests arrive. The band starts playing dance tunes, but soon the effects of drink show through. Though some soloists begin soberly enough, eventually the whole thing turns boozy. Then shivering strings announce sunrise as the guests go home. The sun rises, at which point enter piper Fraser Fifield down the centre aisle to bring the piece to a climax.

After coming all the way from Edinburgh to contend with a full orchestra, Fraser Fifield complied with the desire of conductor Nicholas Concannon Hodges and the audience to hear him play on his own. He began with two intricately decorated but toe-tapping melodies on a deep and sweet toned instrument that looked like an outsize tin whistle. Then came a lively bagpipe solo. The audience were delighted.

The second half was taken up with Sibelius’ first symphony. Various movements were listed, but to me it was more of a whole than the movement structure suggested, with changes of pace within the movements, and a unifying theme. I do not think I fully grasped this complex work, but I did enjoy it. There were seamless mood changes from serene to urgent and back again, skillful use of all the various tones of the orchestra, and lovely melodies.

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I came to Todmorden in 1979 with my record collection but have gradually become converted to live music