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Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra...better than Strictly Come Dancing?

A triumphant start to its 125th anniversary season

The Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra pictured recording at the BBC's Maida Vale studios in London for an episode of All Together Now: The Great Orchestra Challenge(Image: Huddersfield Daily Examiner)

Lights, cameras, action! Fresh from its appearance on BBC’s All Together Now: The Great Orchestra Challenge, Slaithwaite Philharmonic sat down to embark on an ambitious programme in the opening concert of their 125th anniversary season, writes reviewer Suzanne Smelt.

Directed by internationally acclaimed conductor Benjamin Ellin, proceedings began with a moving rendition of Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ Variation at Huddersfield Town Hall , played as tribute to the late Edward Kelly , president of the orchestra and lifelong supporter. The concert was dedicated to his memory.

Next, the audience heard the orchestra’s full might in Wagner’s The Meistersinger’s Overture (1868). An unhurried tempo created the required ceremonial mood with robust tutti playing. A triumphant start.

This was followed by Don Juan (1888), Strauss’ tone-poem, which firmly established the composer’s reputation. A tremendous brass sound underpinned the tone which contrasted with sensitive quieter moments, to produce dramatic effects. Highlights were the impressively lyrical woodwind and violin solos during the central section and we heard beautifully phrased legato melodies from the strings.

Now warmed up, the orchestra took a back seat as acclaimed Greek violinist Efi Christodoulou took to the stage to give a commanding performance of Busoni’s Violin Concerto (1896/7). Christodoulou stole the show with incredulously fast finger-gymnastics and exquisite melodies. Never easy to accompany a soloist, this orchestra avoided pitfalls of poor synchronisation and over-bearing dynamics due to Ellin’s well considered direction and showed much control, especially in hushed moments.

Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra (1948) combined new ideas within classic frameworks and was a late success for the composer. Each section of the orchestra was featured. Representative of this soloistic scoring was the 2nd movement, entitled Game of Pairs.

Here, instruments doubled-up to share shared solo spots. Some fine players here who successfully performed as ‘part of the team’ and never hankered after the limelight.

This excellent musicianship pervaded the challenging music with its changing meters, cross-rhythms, chromatic phrases and angular motifs.

Entries were accurate and confident due to the magic hands of maestro Ellin. Impressive were the well-tuned strings (1st Movement), the woodwind solos (3rd movement), a stunning horn sound (opening, 5th movement) and the unfailing energy and exuberance from all (5th Movement).

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This was a ‘musical marathon’ performed from start to finish with commitment, energy and skill.

I hardly dare mention the rarest moments of unsettled intonation as these had no bearing on the result.

Forget Strictly Come Dancing and welcome Strictly Come Slaithwaite!

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