The Haffner Orchestra returned to the Ashton Hall on Saturday for their first concert there since the pandemic. They were conducted by guest conductor Hilario Flores-Coni from Argentina currently based in Scotland. As a good-sized audience arrived at the hall the sun was shining but it produced nothing like the warmth of the mini-heatwave earlier in the week.
The warmth lacking outside was made up for by the warmth of tone and the ensemble achieved by the orchestra in Mozart’s overture to Don Giovanni which opened the concert. The portentous minor key introduction and the exuberant allegro which follows were executed in stirring fashion.
Zoltan Kodaly’s Summer Evening composed in 1906, revived and revised in 1929, was a revelation. The composer used folk melodies or folk inspired tunes to create a complex web of sound beginning with the plangent tones of a solo cor anglais in minor mode and ending with a hushed string chord in the major key. This was a fully committed performance which excited an interest in hearing more of Kodaly’s works in future concerts.
The Two Pieces for Small Orchestra by Frederick Delius bringing the first half of the concert to a close introduced a completely different sound world. On Hearing the First Cuckoo of Spring and Summer Night on the River show-cased the adventurous shifting harmonies of Delius’ unique musical language and gave opportunities for individual players to come to the fore. The beautifully played cello solo in the second of the two pieces was acknowledged with a special ovation for the principal cellist at the end of part one of the concert.
A Haydn symphony as the final work in a concert programme is comparatively rare so I applaud the Haffner Orchestra for devoting the entire second half of their programme to a performance of the Symphony No 101, nicknamed “The Clock”. It was a bold choice and although it cannot be denied that some cracks began to appear in ensemble particularly in loud passages involving the whole orchestra this performance certainly brought the evening’s entertainment to a resounding conclusion.