Settle Orchestra spring concert

Richard Whiteley Theatre, Giggleswick

THIS concert truly was a fascinating programme and it was enjoyable to see Settle Orchestra and Langcliffe Singers reunited once more and doing what they do best, complementing one another in producing music of the highest order.

As part of its 50th anniversary celebrations the orchestra, conducted by guest conductor Elspeth Slorach, was joined by Langcliffe Singers, soloists Charlotte Trepese and James Berry and a number of specialist musicians listed in the programme as "orchestral extras" who enlivened the performance with instruments as diverse as harp and contrabassoon.

While some may feel that in the first half of the programme the balance was slightly awry - the acoustics of such a venue can never be easy to judge - with the orchestra at times overwhelming the singers, this was certainly not the case in the second half where the spotlight was truly on the choir and the magnificent guest soloists.

The programme itself was dramatic and thought provoking. The theatrical Manfred Overture by Robert Schumann set the scene perfectly for the intensity of the German Requiem by Brahms.

While this was probably not the most cheerful of pieces, being likened by George Bernard Shaw as a piece emanating from the establishment of "a first class undertaker", it would be a mistake to think of it as being only solemn and funereal.

Based around passages from the Lutheran bible, it has moments of great joy and rather than simply adhere to the formal Catholic mass it breaks into deeply moving hymns of comfort and consolation.

Throughout the whole piece there are moments of brilliance and quite clearly times when the whole orchestra is under huge pressure.

The drama is interspersed with stunning solos and there were at times excellent pieces from strings, woodwind and brass - though I have to admit to being transfixed by the amazing performance of the percussionist on the timpani.

The piece itself is both intense and poignant, with the solemnity and dolefulness of the first two movements changing to a more hopeful tone so that the fourth movement is considerably more serene.

The stunning solo in the fifth gives way to a sixth movement which is vivid and majestically powerful, addressing the idea of the last days of the earth before a seventh movement which is like a quiet sense of exhalation after all the drama.

By any standards this is a powerful piece and it was good to see the orchestra and singers appear to take this in their stride, though I have no doubt that beneath a serene surface they were all paddling frantically and hugely relieved when they reached the linger final notes on the flutes and harp.

Gill O'Donnell