Reviews

 

 

Battle of the Somme film, Sunday 2nd July 2017 King's Hall, Ilkley

The 1916 Battle of the Somme was captured in soft-grained black and white by Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell for this amazing 75 minutes-long silent film. Planned initially as morale-boosting wartime propaganda, the Somme film was seen by almost half the UK population. Millions packed cinemas across the land in the hope of catching glimpses of loved ones on the battlefield. Such was the film's appeal that audience figures remained unsurpassed for six decades - until the release of Star Wars in 1977.

Laura Rossi's resourceful symphonic score sensitively and lovingly matches the interwoven tapestry of Malin and McDowell's harrowing footage of dead and wounded as well as the smiles and cheery waves of the troops, or jubilant battlefield preparations.

The launching of a preliminary attack by avalanches of so called "plum pudding" bombs - designed to eradicate the German barbed wire defences - is heralded by suspenseful hovering strings and the eerie-sounding gale from a wind machine. Full orchestra with thunderous timpani depict gunfire and heavy artillery. Plangent oboe and crystalline harp textures accompany recovery of the wounded on stretchers, images of dead horses or the regimental dog and its beloved master fallen in battle.

Rossi had earlier set the scene by reading poignant passages from her great-uncle's battlefield diary. She must have been both moved and delighted by the Airedale Symphony Orchestra's luminous and impeccably synchronised performance conducted by John Anderson. A large audience was held in thrall by the overwhelming power of the film and Rossi's atmospheric soundscape.

Geoffrey Mogridge


 

Sunday 2nd April 2017 King's Hall, Ilkley

The 1805 premiere of Beethoven's opera Leonore was a flop. Over the next decade Beethoven radically re-worked his opera. He renamed the work Fidelio but was not satisfied with any of his overtures (Leonore No's 1,2 & 3). The now familiar curtain raiser was written for the Viennese Premiere of Fidelio in 1814. Conductor John Anderson at the helm of his Airedale Symphony Orchestra took the Fidelio Overture's introductory flourish at a less frenetic speed than adopted by some conductors. His expansive tempi accentuated the dramatic ascending chords for full orchestra. There was an impressive tightness of ensemble in all sections.

The conductor then escorted violinist Sophie Cameron and cellist George Hoult centre stage to play the rich and earthy sounding Brahms Double Concerto in A minor. These perceptive young soloists rapidly established a rapport with the audience. Their sweet-toned ardour was matched by the intensity of the ASO's accompaniment. Infectious Gypsy rhythms were interpreted with a sure sense of the local idiom. The lyrical intensity of the beautiful Andante movement was especially memorable.

Completing the alliterative effect of the evening's composers, Anderson and the ASO devoted the second half to Anton Bruckner's Symphony No 3 in D minor. In the 'original' 1873 version, this is one of the longest of Bruckner's symphonies. It is more frequently performed - as on this occasion - in a truncated 'third' version from 1889 running for just under an hour. Anderson realised the grandeur and nobility of this symphony in an absorbing reading noteable for the clarity of instrumental detail. The final movement's playful Polka and an exultant coda with imposing brass chorales set the seal on a compelling performance.

Geoffrey Mogridge


 

Sunday 22nd January 2017 Victoria Hall, Saltaire

A chilly grey January Sunday afternoon, but inside Titus Salt's ornate Victoria Hall there was a palpable buzz of anticipation. The Airedale Symphony Orchestra, conducted as ever by John Anderson, had unusually programmed three works written for sections of a typical symphony orchestra.

The ASO brass opened the concert with a resonating performance of the splendid Fanfare from Paul Dukas' music for Diaghilev's ballet, La Peri. Next came the winds with Richard Strauss's Suite in B flat. The young Strauss composed this piece at the behest of conductor Hans von Bulow for a combination of double woodwind, plus contrabassoon and four French horns. The ASO's talented players, conducted by Anderson, made every bar of this youthful score spring to life. Dvorak's charming thirty minute-long Serenade for Stings completed the generous first half. The ASO's orderly reading of this lovely work had both rhythmic precision and clarity of texture - no mean feat given the large contingent of forty five strings.

Scarcely could there have been a more appropriate finale to unite the entire orchestra of seventy musicians than Beethoven's triumphal Fifth Symphony. John Anderson's interpretation of this iconic masterwork was Imbued with urgency. Beethoven's contrapuntal writing in the third movement Scherzo was wonderfully clear. The tightness and precision of the trio section with a very quiet passage for pizzicato strings ushered in the barnstorming fourth movement. Clarion horn calls, blazing trumpets, trombones and sonorous timpani were underpinned by the sinewy strings. The coda was tumultuous, the whole experience exhilarating. A capacity audience responded with warmth and enthusiasm.

Geoffrey Mogridge


 

Sunday 13th November 2016 King's Hall, Ilkley

A well-filled King's Hall greeted the Airedale Symphony Orchestra's opening concert of their Ilkley season. It is hard to believe that Mendelssohn's Overture Ruy Blas was dashed off in just three days so carefully crafted is the orchestration heralded as it is by those stirring fanfares. The ASO's weighty brass and woodwind combined with supple strings to bring out the drama and grandeur of this splendid piece. It is even harder to believe that Dvorak's hauntingly beautiful Violin Concerto in A minor languished in relative obscurity for decades. Thanks in no small part to the advocacy of Dvorak's great-grandson, the eminent violinist Josef Suk, the work has become a cornerstone of the concerto repertoire. Kazakhstan born violin virtuoso Galya Bisengalieva delighted the Ilkley audience with her impassioned performance of this demanding piece. Her tone was warm and vibrant and the pitching of notes perfectly centred. Both soloist and orchestra were in tune with the folk idioms that informed the composition of this lovely concerto.

The second half opened with the Polonaise and Waltz from Tchaikovsky's opera Eugene Onegin. Both excerpts were played with panache and a degree of swagger by the ASO, conducted by John Anderson.

The Orchestra's poised performance of Schumann's youthful 'Spring' Symphony No1 in B flat banished the November gloom and thoughts of Christmas. Despite moments of darkness and foreboding, the Symphony contains some of Schumann's most joyful music - a characteristic certainly mirrored by the lightness of touch in the Scherzo's two trios and an animated account of the final movement.

Geoffrey Mogridge


 

Sunday 26th June 2016 Victoria Hall, Saltaire

Khachaturian's tuneful Masquerade Suite opened the Airedale Symphony Orchestra's summer concert.   The stirring Waltz is perhaps the most well known of the five movements.   John Anderson's dynamic presence at the helm of the ASO demonstrated that there is much else to enjoy, such as the graceful romance with it's plangent trumpet solo.   The Nocturne featured orchestra leader jacquiline Cima's immaculately phrased violin solo.   there followed an ebullient Scherzo and, finally, the rhythmic energy of the Gallop with it's chirpy woodwind figures.

Mozart's Bassoon Concerto in B flat K191 cast the spotlight on a player whose finely pointed contributions have been a feature of ASO concerts for more than two decades.   Principal Bassoonist Rosemary Anderson showcased the full range of her instrument; she conveyed the quirky humour and the flowing lyricism of the delightful concerto.

Rachmaninov's hour-long Symphony No. 2 in E minor somehow epitomises overblown 19th century romanticism.    Savage cuts to live performances and recordings of the piece were commonplace as recently as the 1970s.   the ASO's performance was uncut except for the first movement exposition repeat.   Delicate solo passages included a hanting oboe in the first movement Largo and the yearning theme for clarinet in the third movement Adagio.   An ample string tone and shining brass chorales charactersided a driven performance which faithfully conveyed the emotion and dark sonorities of this epic symphony.

Geoffrey Mogridge


 

Sunday 20th March 2016 King's Hall, Ilkley

An underlying thread of melancholoy permeated the ASO's carefully chosen programme conducted, as ever, by John Anderson.  The opening entries of Brahms' Tragic Overture shounded hesitant but ensemble soon tightened and the musicians found their best form.

The ASO made an inspired choice of soloist for Elgar's much loved Cello Concerto.  Young manchester born cellist George Hoult has already notched up an impressive list of engagements with major UK orchestras.  Hoult really made his instrument sing in this most autumnal of concertos.  Descending phrases in the heart rending Adagio were beatifully shaped while the second movement Allegro molto had a lovely fleeting quality.   The finely detailed orcehstral accompaniment was always in perfect balance with the soloist.

Dvorak's haunting Symphony No. 7 in D minor is considered by some to be his greatest.  The ASO's superb performance conducted by John Anderson conveyed both the sombre atmosphere and extraordinary rhythmic energy.  Some very fine playing from all sections included the woodwind solos and the "horn chorale" in the beautiful Adagio movement.

Geoffrey Mogridge


 

Sunday 15th November 2015 King's Hall, Ilkley

Roads, railways and bridges flooded, trains cancelled, bus services cancelled! The presence of such a large audience, let alone the seventy members of the Airedale Symphony Orchestra, surely represented a triumph of human endeavour. An ebullient performance of Walton's rowdy and racy Portsmouth Point Overture soon banished lingering thoughts of the challenging weather conditions outside. The concert continued with the evocative English Rhapsody Brigg Fair, by Frederick Delius. ASO conductor John Anderson and his dedicated players captured the pulse and momentum of this atmospheric set of variations on a Lincolnshire folk tune. The languorous opening solo passages for oboe and flute were beautifully etched against the serene backdrop created by the violins. Orchestral textures were clearly delineated and carefully built up to the tumultuous climax towards the end.

The next novelty arrived in the form of Elgar's little known and wistful Romance for Bassoon and Orchestra. Bassoonist Lewis Wright revelled in the opportunity to shape and colour long, singing phrases rather than the punchy and quirky passages more frequently written for his instrument. The ASO has played a number of pieces especially written for them by Leeds composer William Kinghorn. Kinghorn's Five Pieces for Orchestra is a "recomposition" of short piano pieces which he composed in 2014. Anderson and the ASO played the five concise movements with consummate skill and attention to detail.

Kinghorn was born in 1935 - a year after the death of Sir Edward Elgar whose hour-long, deeply introspective Symphony No 2 in E Flat occupied the second half. Elgar marked the first page of his score with an enigmatic line by Shelley, "Rarely, rarely, comest thou, Spirit of Delight!" These beautiful words embrace the brooding and sombre character of the symphony, punctuated as it is with flashes of optimism and exuberance. I listened with a sense of wonderment as John Anderson and the ASO allowed this complex work to unfold. Anderson clearly knows how the music should go. His pacing and setting of tempi sounded exactly right. Balance and clarity of textures were impeccable - even in the very fast passages. I have occasionally heard the third movement Rondo Presto sound wilder, but at the expense of some detail. Here, Anderson applied the lightest possible touch to the brakes and enabled every note to be heard. The majestic Fourth Movement coda led into peaceful final bars and the sustained magical E Flat major chord embellished by glowing strings and angelic harps. A memorable and utterly enthralling performance to which the audience responded with prolonged applause.

Geoffrey Mogridge


Sunday 22 March 2015 King's Hall, Ilkley

The ASO's string section could have usefully been thinned down in the interests of a more idiomatic account of Schubert's Rosamunde Overture. Orchestral textures were too thick to capture the overture's essential vivacious quality. The proportions were better suited to that most symphonic of Beethoven's piano concertos - No 5 in E Flat the "Emperor". Young Yorkshire born pianist William Green proved his ability to cut through the symphonic canvas. Green's expressive playing in the central Adagio elicited a range of tonal colours. The transition into the Rondo finale was unduly prolonged but once there, Green was clearly in his element. This movement had boundless rhythmic vitality illuminated by flashes of brilliance.

After the interval, Brahms' Symphony No 1 in C minor, famously dubbed by conductor Hans von Bulow as "Beethoven's Tenth". ASO conductor John Anderson's measured tempo sustained the insistent drum beat in the long dramatic opening. The serene Adagio was embellished by orchestra leader Jacqueline Cima's rhapsodic solo violin. A dance-like third movement led into the tension-building final movement with its gleaming brass chorales and triumphant coda.

John Anderson and the ASO return to the King's Hall on Sunday 28th June with Ravel's Daphnis and Chloe, Dvorak's Violin Concerto and Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition.

Geoffrey Mogridge


Sunday 9 November 2014 King's Hall, Ilkley

Thoughts of war and remembrance permeated a cleverly themed programme of music from the concert hall and the silver screen. The suite of popular numbers from Ron Goodwin's descriptive score for the 1969 film Battle of Britain began with Aces High, a bombastic march originally intended to portray the Luftwaffe. This rousing tune with its strong Germanic flavour made extensive use of the ASO's splendid heavy brass department.

 From the triumphalism of war to sad reflection on the tragic waste of young lives so intensely conveyed by George Butterworth in his orchestral rhapsody A Shropshire Lad. Butterworth's own life was brutally cut short by a sniper's bullet at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The ASO's performance, carefully shaped by conductor John Anderson, pointed up the expressive instrumental detail in this lovely score. Five years earlier, Richard Strauss's opera Der Rosenkavalier had been premiered at the Dresden Court Opera. This bittersweet music is suffused with regret at the passing of time. An orchestral suite arranged by Artur Rodzinski was first performed in New York under Rodzinski's baton on October 5th 1944. The Prelude depicts a night of passion between the Marschallin and her young lover Octavian. This turbulent music is characterised by soaring strings, gossiping woodwind and "whooping" horns. Anderson and the ASO played the suite with such loving care; the great waltz theme emerged with a tangible Viennese lilt.

 After the interval, the recurring "motto" theme of Elgar's Symphony No 1 in A flat again evoked a sense of remembrance. Anderson and the ASO played with conviction in a finely balanced performance that reached the heart of this great symphony in the sublime Adagio movement. Superb work here from the strings, harps, woodwind and brass which culminated in the final blazing movement and yet another opportunity for the five horns to bask in the limelight. The ASO's next concert features excerpts from popular ballets on Sunday 25th January at 3.00pm in Saltaire's Victoria Hall.

Geoffrey Mogridge


Sunday 29 June 2014, King's Hall, Ilkley

Wagner's early opera Rienzi is rarely performed but its stirring overture remains a concert hall favourite. The Airedale Symphony Orchestra's bold and brassy performance, conducted by John Anderson, delighted an almost full house.

 The unforgettable opening theme of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No 1 in B flat minor, announced by the horns, leads straight into the virtuosic solo part for the pianist. Rustom Battiwalla responded to the challenge of this much-loved concerto with astonishing brilliance. However, It must be said that the uneven tonal qualities of the King's Hall instrument to some degree restricted Battiwalla's palette of colours.

 Airedale Seasons, being given its world premiere at this concert, was written by Leeds composer Paul Wilkinson especially for the ASO. This attractive work provided a contrast to the dazzling pianistic pyrotechnics, and the orchestral bombast of Carl Nielsen. Wilkinson showcases all sections of the orchestra in some intricately woven solo passages. The composer beautifully evokes the local countryside and the ever-changing skies - echoes of Vaughan Williams, Holst or Butterworth perhaps? I hope we shall have the chance to hear this again.

 A very rare opportunity to experience the live performance of a Nielsen symphony made this concert a not-to-be missed event. Symphony No 4 'The Inextinguishable' was conceived in 1914, shortly before the outbreak of the First World War, and premiered two years later. The density of orchestral textures and fast-changing rhythms make this one of the most fiendishly difficult 20th Century symphonies to bring off. John Anderson and the ASO triumphed with a performance of blistering force, precision, and textural clarity. The brass fanfares sounded incandescent and the astringent quality of the flutes and piccolos could hardly have been bettered. Nielsen's astounding "battle of the timps" hammered out on sets of kettle drums at either side of the orchestra will remain etched in the memory. The enthusiastic audience cheers, bravos and foot-stamping at the end of this remarkable performance were richly deserved.

Geoffrey Mogridge       


Sunday 16 March 2014, King's Hall, Ilkley

Wagner originally scored his Siegfried Idyll for just 18 instruments but the version for full orchestra is the one more often heard in the concert hall. The Airedale Symphony Orchestra was conducted by John Anderson. Woodwind details were beautifully sculpted and crystal clear; strings sounded full-bodied and textures were not too thick.

There followed something of a novelty at these concerts - Domenico Zipoli's Adagio for Oboe, Cello and orchestra (Elevazione) a sedate and delicate miniature that has become a popular choice for both weddings and funerals. ASO principal oboe Chris Garbutt was an impeccable soloist along with principal cello Tim Hugh. Next up, orchestra leader Jacqueline Cima (she had been replaced for the first two items by guest leader Ian Banks) moved centre stage to play Mozart's Violin Concerto No 3 in G major. This lovely concerto combines youthful exuberance with a mature treatment of thematic content; Cima's light and expressive touch was matched by playing of sensitivity from Anderson and his ASO.

Bruckner's Symphony No 1 in C Minor portends the Gothic grandeur of his later symphonies - particularly his monumental 8th - also in C minor. No 1 lasts around 45 minutes, is bursting with ideas and is much more concise.   A confident opening containing intricate flute and oboe solos set the tone for an accomplished performance. Bruckner's lovely Adagio encouraged some especially fine playing from the strings. The robust playing of the G minor Scherzo was finely contrasted by the delicacy of the G minor Trio section. The timpani were well judged not to be over-prominent and we heard some golden playing from the horns and woodwind - as always seemingly without effort surmounting the trickiest passages. A much appreciated and rare opportunity to hear this early Bruckner symphony superbly played by the ASO and conducted by John Anderson with integrity and an sure sense of structure.

The ASO's next King's Hall concert is on Sunday 29th June.

Geoffrey Mogridge


Sunday 19 January 2014, Victoria Hall, Saltaire

A capacity audience welcomed the ASO for this Sunday afternoon "Classical Spectacular" conducted and introduced by John Anderson.  Franz von Suppe's Light Cavalry Overture with its brass fanfares and rousing march theme opened the programme. Prokofiev's complex score for the ballet Romeo and Juliet is technically demanding for the most experienced professional orchestral musicians. The listener could be pardoned for not realising this, given the ASO's polished performance of the stirring Montagues and Capulets number beginning with that cataclysmic orchestral tutti before the famous Dance of the Knights theme played here with strength and virility.

Composer Max Bruch is really known for just one classical "pop" - his beautiful Violin Concerto No 1 in G Minor. It's probably a safe bet that very few will have heard of Bruch's Kol Nidrei - Adagio on Hebrew Melodies for Cello and Orchestra. Tim Baker the ASO's principal cellist was the expressive soloist who infused this haunting miniature with such tenderness and depth of feeling. The concert returned to familiar territory with much loved excerpts from Grieg's incidental music for Peer Gynt including Morning, and In the Hall of the Mountain King.

The second half opened with an energised performance of the exotic Polovtsian Dances from Borodin's opera Prince Igor. A brief visit to Vienna followed with Franz Lehar's charming Gold and Silver Waltz, played here with a sure sense of the Viennese idiom - and with all repeats observed.  Tchaikovsky's March Slave, a tumultuous expression of 19th Century Russian jingoism, closed the official programme. But there was a surprise encore in store:  the ASO delighted this family audience with their performance of Klaus Badelt's heroic music for the film Pirates of the Caribbean.

Geoffrey Mogridge