Britten Sinfonia/Aimard, Aldeburgh

Although the Aldeburgh Festival has an obviously intelligent artistic director in Pierre-Laurent Aimard, it was three days before a cogently planned event took place in the riverside hall at Snape. Despite the inclusion of several interesting items in preceding concerts, there was a glaring lack of focus. It wasn't until the appearance of the legendary Leon Fleisher, and his wife Katherine Jacobson Fleisher, with a fascinating and well thought-through recital for two and four hands at one piano, that the festival achieved lift-off.

I missed the open-air Garden Beach Band but I doubt if even the most eloquent interpretation on spades, pots and hose-pipes would have compensated for the lack of joined-up thinking in a concert given the night before by the Britten Sinfonia with Aimard as pianist/director.

Since both Pierre Boulez and George Benjamin are featured composers in the Festival, it made sense to pay homage to both. Boulez's Derive 1 resembles a brilliant fireworks display of instrumental squibs and rockets in which the pyrotechnical choreography has gone awry. Brilliantly interpreted by just six players from the Britten Sinfonia, it was followed by an early and no-less-dazzling piece by Benjamin, his Turner-inspired At First Light.

It was distinguished by breath-taking contributions from oboist Nicholas Daniel and piccolo trumpet Paul Mayes against a kaleidoscopic background created by the other 12 players. But even this extraordinary work seemed out of place at the end of a programme otherwise devoted to Bach (a Brandenburg concerto and the D minor keyboard concerto played rather too assertively by Aimard) and arrangements of Bach by Luciano Berio and Benjamin himself. Benjamin's transcription of a canon and fugue from The Art of Fugue, in its UK premiere, was scored for flute, two horns, three violins, two violas and cello. Craftsmanlike, as well as highly imaginative, it was slightly over-shadowed by Berio's riveting, cinematic dissolve into harmonic weirdness at the end of his arrangement of Bach's final, unfinished fugue from the same keyboard collection. If only the programme order had remained as advertised, with Bach framing the Benjamin and the Boulez, the concert would have made more sense.



Festival continues until 27 June ( Aldeburgh.co.uk)

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