Review: Otley Chamber Orchestra Concert, Sunday, May 19

THOSE of us who were at the OCO concert last Sunday were in for real treats for the orchestra under its young permanent conductor Chris Pelly demonstrated what amateur orchestral playing can achieve. The programme was indeed challenging. The first half opened with the overture, Hansel and Gretel by Humperdinck, followed by Elgar’s Nursery Suite and Sibelius’s Finlandia. The second half was devoted to Haydn’s Clock Symphony, Symphony No.101.

The opera, Hansel and Gretel, based on the tale by Brothers Grim was written in the 1890s and premiered in late 1893. It is probably Humperdinck’s best know work. The overture begins with a melody played by a chorale of four horns which acts as a thread throughout the piece and reappears towards the end of the overture.

The middle section, ably introduced by the OCO brass section, leads to a pastoral theme from the strings against which the woodwind play a dance melody. The final part of the work brings together horns and woodwind in melody and counter melody. The overture was an excellent choice to open the evening allowing both the technical skills and musicality and warmth of the orchestra’s playing to come to the fore.

The Nursery Suite a late work by Edward Elgar, composed in 1930 and dedicated to the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and the Duchess of York, followed. The seven movements, light yet contrasting in nature, offered each section of the orchestra the opportunity to demonstrate a control and subtleness.

The first half ended with Finlandia. And what a treat this was! From the rousing and evocative first bars played by the brass, this was Sibelius at its best. Chris Pelly teased out the essence of the Finnish landscape and folklore in some beautiful yet dramatic playing from the orchestra.

In the second half Haydn’s symphony No.101, the Clock provided a complete contrast. It is easy to consider the symphonies of Haydn as less complex, both thematically and harmonically and hence possibly less demanding on an orchestra. But nothing could be farther from the truth, as this performance demonstrated with its precise articulation and dynamic contrasts. The second movement, possible one of the best known of Haydn’s symphonic movements, and which gave the symphony its name because of its rhythmic motif typical of a clock ticking, was superbly played. From the opening bars played by the bassoons, the pattern was set as the motif moved around each section of the orchestra. Omega couldn’t have kept better time!

Following some lively playing in the minuet and trio, the finale presented more of a challenge particularly if the latter stages where some intricate contrapuntal scoring lead to momentary insecurity in the strings.

The audience was clearly appreciative of an excellent evening of music making from an orchestra going from strength to strength. The May concert has become a regular evening in the OCO calendar and one which this reviewer will look forward to attending next year.