Magazine article The Spectator

Aldeburgh Delights

Magazine article The Spectator

Aldeburgh Delights

Article excerpt

Aldeburgh continues to entrance with its telling juxtapositions of ancient and modern, in variegated settings of great beauty (if not always ideally comfortable, this too is part of the charm) and - this year - a wide spectrum of East Anglia weather-effects, from burning sun when sea, sky and shingle appear like shot bleached silk whose subtle coloration would defy the skills of Turner, Whistler, Monet, to torrential rainfall with its effect on the communal spirits (this being a corner that is forever Britain) of heightening general cheerfulness.

There was piquant discrepancy between the violent downpour outside and the dinky intricacy of a concert of Mechanical Music in the Jubilee Hall (12 June). We craned to overhear the delicate twingles of new music-box pieces (feeling sore with empathy for the busy wrist of Richard Baker, their principal cranker); sat upright for the interspersed violin/piano recital of music more or less mechanical in its workings (Stravinsky's Chinese March and Copland's Ukulele Serenade the most convincing); and sat well back for the squeaks and tweaks of some eight new arrangements from some of Haydn's bright little scraps written for miniature organs inside clocks (the easy winner here an astounding sleazy splurge - very unHaydn - by Jonathan Powell).

In the same venue nine days later the sun beat down on the roof, reducing players and listeners to shirtsleeves. Composers too. This concert featured produce from the courses at the Britten-Pears School, performed by some of its young instrumentalists. All were up to scratch - Russell Millard's sinewy Episodes, the spasms, surprises, and excellent final disappearance of Jonathan Cole's two pieces (Obsequies; Hardstep); the skeletal stutters and fanfares of Maud Hodson's Crannog, the uninhibited relish of Stuart MacRae's Brocken-Spectre (before it seemed to lose its way) and, best of all, the darkly bright Undertow of John Cooney, doing exactly what the title suggests, with an impressive sustained intensity of harmony. They yielded, however, to the finale by the old master Richard Rodney Bennett's Dream Dancing, whose initially dire idea to realise the concert champetre intended by Debussy to crown his projected set of six sonatas for various instruments, is accomplished not just with tact, but also real brio, suavity, elegant inventiveness.

The weather was kind for an open air event the day before (20 June), when after a showery start the sun smiled on a huddle of local schoolchildren (stiffened by a professional percussionist and softened by a white-clad mime), clinking stones, dinging handbells, raising arms in thin pantheistic wailing, under the beguiling encouragement of Deirdre Gribbin. I admit I smiled too. Such events on the fringe of the Festival and of music itself always manage to be slightly absurd. Better when sea, sky and shingle come unmediated; to these I added on this visit the discovery of Aldeburgh's secret backparts, allotments blowsy with poppies, cornflowers, sweet williams, amidst careful plots of glowing cabbages and burgeoning beans - a whole new dimension to the delights of this delightful little town.

Principal interest, however, was firmly cultural and classical. Two orchestral concerts on consecutive evenings at Snape Maltings, conducted by the outgoing artistic director Oliver Knussen and his successor Thomas Ades, both including a substantial work of their own, make comparison as inevitable as it is fascinating. …

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