Kozena/Rattle/Kirchschlager/Bostridge/Knussen, Aldeburgh Festival

5.00

People had come miles to hear Magdalena Kozena at the Maltings, and when Simon Rattle announced that his wife was sick and liable to conk out half-way through ‘Das Lied von der Erde’ – and that a relief mezzo was on her way – disappointment was palpable. And as Kozena answered tenor Michael Schade’s jubilant drinking song with her autumnal plaint, she did indeed sound as overwhelmed by life as her fictional character: her low notes were barely audible.

But as Mahler’s Chinese song-cycle swept on, she got caught up in its magnificence: the colour returned to her voice and she began to smile, bringing an excited fizz to Li Tai Po’s paean to youth and beauty. The doom-laden horn-calls at the start of the work’s farewell summoned an answering resonance from her, and though her voice was not its pristine self she carried the song with sheer charisma through its majestic valedictory landscape.

With Rattle making his first appearance in Aldeburgh for many years, the first half of this concert saw the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra give a performance of Messiaen’s ‘Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum’ whose monolithic power must have been what Messiaen dreamed of, with the giant tam-tams pulverising everything around: the contrast with the following night’s offering – which delicately exploited the sensitivity of the hall’s brick acoustic – could not have been greater.

Britten’s early chamber opera ‘The Rape of Lucretia’ contains the seeds of masterpieces to follow and, though its libretto is problematic, Ian Bostridge and Angelika Kirchschlager - as the male chorus and protagonist – gave it a searing, declamatory force. But its chief glory lies in the menacing beauty of its orchestral sound: the string and woodwind textures which Oliver Knussen extracted from the Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble repeatedly took the breath away.

Day three focused on the music of Ligeti – erstwhile mentor of Aldeburgh’s artistic director Pierre-Laurent Aimard – and started with a children’s workshop inspired by Ligeti’s ‘symphonic poem’ for a hundred metronomes, before climaxing in a series of Ligeti standards performed by Aimard and his co-pianist Tamara Stefanovich, plus horn-virtuoso Marie-Luise Neunecker and Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto. Meanwhile, in a rousing Balkan-Finnish-Hungarian melange in Aldeburgh church, Kuusisto had proved he possesses all the talents of Nigel Kennedy, and none of the pretention. Such pleasures are typical of this festival, which still has two weeks to go.

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