TITLE: Slaithwaite Philharmonic Orchestra

VENUE: Huddersfield Town Hall

REVIEW: William Marshall

IN September Slaithwaite Phil presented a fully-staged grand opera – La Boheme – at Huddersfield Town Hall.

Their follow up was to perform something equally dramatic – possibly more so in musical terms.

This was Mahler’s epic Symphony No 3 which occupies an entire concert, requires extra instrumental forces plus a choir and vocal soloist and explores nature, landscape, night and day, the seasons, life on earth and, by implication, mankind’s place in the scheme of things.

An ambitious piece of music, then.

But while it would be possible to have tut tutted at some moments of sour tuning and a few ragged entries, the Phil rose exceptionally well to this immense challenge.

And, for many of the players, this will surely have been a highlight of their performing careers for Mahler demands a lot, not least from those to whom he entrusts lengthy solos.

In the Third Symphony these are in particular the first trombone and an offstage flugel horn – Bruce Jones and Phil Robertson respectively. Both acquitted themselves exceptionally well.

The woodwinds and strings might have had occasional lapses in ensemble and intonation, but they fully made up for this with some really good playing in key passages, some of whichŠ – typically of Mahler – were extremely lengthy and exploratory.

In the final movement, for example, the strings displayed sustained control and achieved a beautiful body of sound as the work neared its rather serene end. And the woodwinds rose to the colourful challenges of the third movement, with its variegated depiction of animal life.

The vocal soloist in the fourth movement was the mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston whose darkly shaded voice was ideal for this depiction of the night.

Lady singers from the Slaithwaite Philharmonic Chorus and choristers from Wakefield Cathedral then made an entrance and when combined with the consistent excellence of the percussion section this was a highlight of the performance.

The Philharmonic’s regular conductor, Benjamin Ellin, has a major commitment in the USA, so this concert was under the baton of the experienced Mark Heron.

The powers of concentration required to conduct such an epic work must be considerable, but he displayed admirable coolness and his lack of podium histrionics meant that all the drama took place within the music.