Review: Airedale Symphony Orchestra – Transformation, King’s Hall, Ilkley: Sunday 30 June

A packed King’s Hall eagerly awaited the evening concert by the Airedale Symphony Orchestra on Sunday. Arrayed before us was an impressive orchestra of over 75 players including triple woodwind and a substantial brass section under conductor, Ben Crick. The brass started the concert in fine style with the fanfares which launch Shostakovich’s Festival overture, written to celebrate an anniversary of the October revolution. This received a rousing performance from the whole orchestra right through to its fizzing finale. This was followed in contrast by the more relaxed music of Grieg’s first Peer Gynt suite, reflective music from the whole orchestra in the opening ‘Morning’ including some wonderful muted horns. The strings produced a beautiful rich tone in ‘Aase’s Death’ and some really crisp pizzicati in the mazurka-like ‘Anitra’s dance’. Finally the cellos and bassoon’s led off the sinister troll theme of ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’ which sped on towards an explosive climax.

However what we had all come to hear was the performance of Mahler’s 5th Symphony which stretched over the next 80 minutes. This piece is a real challenge to both audience and orchestra, whether professional or amateur. Despite being firmly within the main repertoire, this symphony often presents the listener with a bewildering array of sounds which are not immediately easy to grasp. To attempt a performance immediately speaks of the ambition of the Airedale Symphony which is to be applauded. Certainly I do not expect ever to hear a better performance from a band comprised almost entirely of amateurs.

The first movement funeral march is led off by a trumpet call which echoes throughout – it was played with a lovely bright tone by Shannon Gately – indeed the whole brass and woodwind choruses were excellent in this movement. The second movement – marked ‘stormily, with the greatest vehemence’ – follows the grief of the first with a nightmare of sounds which the whole orchestra embraced. In the following scherzo, we hear both the rustic ländler and its relative the waltz which alternate with a series of horn calls, played by soloist Ewan Hudson with great aplomb. The fourth movement is the famous Adagietto, taken here at not too slow a pace by Ben Crick, and played with great beauty of tone by the orchestral strings. The finale, a densely written rondo, demands great agility from the strings in their fugato entries and calls on the whole orchestra to perform to the utmost. Once again the brass and horns were the stars of the performance with their resounding chorale towards the end. The extended applause was thoroughly deserved!