Aldeburgh Festival, Snape and other venues, Suffolk

More sonorities from beside the sea

Anna Picard
Sunday 26 June 2005 00:00
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The BBC Symphony Orchestra's Aldeburgh Festival concert was a carrot and stick affair. Quite why any carrot might be needed at this most stick-friendly of festivals is a mystery to me, but Stravinksy, Knussen, Colin Matthews, Tchaikovsky and Tippett vied for attention in a programme that was by turns abrasive, spectacular, and fluffy as cake-mix.

The BBC Symphony Orchestra's Aldeburgh Festival concert was a carrot and stick affair. Quite why any carrot might be needed at this most stick-friendly of festivals is a mystery to me, but Stravinksy, Knussen, Colin Matthews, Tchaikovsky and Tippett vied for attention in a programme that was by turns abrasive, spectacular, and fluffy as cake-mix.

As an exercise in intertextuality it worked. Colin Matthews's excitable Fanfare and Flourish with Fireflies - premiered here and virtuosically scored, if somewhat undermined by a vulgar final chord - paid homage to Oliver Knussen's 2002 Flourish with Fireworks, which, in turn, was written in tribute to Stravinksy's 1909 Fireworks. Stravinksy's tart Orchestrations from The Sleeping Beauty were preceded by Tchaikovsky's soporific Suite from the same ballet, and followed by Tippett's Stravinsky-inspired Second Symphony. So closely and incestuously related were these works that they might be scions of an Appalachian dynasty.

Standing in for Oliver Knussen, conductor Edward Gardner's Tippett and Tchaikovsky were stylish. But his most expressive and confident performance was in Stravinksy's transparent rescoring of The Sleeping Beauty. Here the sunbaked BBCSO was reduced to a chamber orchestra and sounded much the better for it, with some lovely work from pianist Elizabeth Burley.

On the beach, earlier the same day, Joseph Phibbs's piece Cossax brought a muscular ensemble of (uncredited) professional percussion, brass and saxophones together with a group of local amateur musicians in an aromatic fusion of Shostakovich, Bernstein and Britten.

But the most powerful premieres of the weekend were heard in the Kroger String Quartet's concert with accordionist Owen Murray. Per Norgard's miserabilist colonic symphonies have long been a bête noir of mine, so I was surprised at the clarity and beauty of his tenth string quartet, Hostlidlos (named after the Autumn Crocus). His depiction of the late flowering of this poisonous bulb is programmatic, even conservative, with slow glissandi and an elegiac melody for viola. More impressive still was Poul Ruders's Serenade for String Quartet and Accordion, On the Shores of the Cosmic Ocean, which marks a return to form after the disorganised brilliance of Kafka's Trial. Here Ruders conjures an ecstatic orchestral palette of sonorities from the five instruments; conveying the vastness of space with clear-eyed wonder in nine succinct and extraordinary movements.

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