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The use of the organ is inspired, from its entrance with a series of low pedal notes -- so low and so quiet as to be more felt, literally in the stomach, than heard -- to the thundering finale of the third movement. Then, immediately, everything is pared down to two instruments, harp and oboe -- in a fleeting moment of warmth and beauty. As for the brass, always one of VW's strengths, how he would have loved to have heard the BBC NOW brass section, especially the trumpets, who played out of their skins: Tadaaki Otaka is one of those conductors who coaxes the very best out of his players.

While Alun Hoddinott's music is hardly 'school of Vaughan Williams', Symphony No 7 shares both the sparkling orchestration and rhythmic vitality of Sinfonia Antartica, at least in its two outer movements; and it too makes dramatic use both of organ and tuned percussion. Five percussionists, no less, plus timpani. There is a strong sense of the dance, albeit in a spiky, frenetic form, the music lurching forward at times like a man toppling almost, but not quite, off balance. The central 'Calmo' movement is in fact less calm than deeply meditative, seeming at times barely to move at all: music unconstrained by time.

Alun Hoddinott in 2004. Photo © Keith Bramich
Alun Hoddinott in 2004. Photo © Keith Bramich

The organ sounds are excitingly varied and subtle, and the St David's Hall organ, after its overhaul a year or so ago, sounds marvellous. It helps to have an organist of the stature of Thomas Trotter, of course, as Alun Hoddinot made clear by his own applause at the end. He applauded organist and orchestra; we applauded him, and Tadaaki Otaka. All in all, a fitting celebration of this grand old man of Welsh music. Well, almost. If the hall had been full, the applause would have been twice as loud -- no more than all the participants merited.

Copyright © 28 February 2005 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK






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