LSO/Rattle Snape review


Snape Maltings

It is so good to experience music in Aldeburgh coming back to life again. This is such a unique location, with none of the anodyne anonymity of London nor even of any of our great regional cities, but one which has grown from its links with Benjamin Britten to spread its welcoming tentacles ( we are in a seaside town) to embrace music from every source.
As part of the thriving summer series ongoing at the Maltings, the London Symphony Orchestra visited on August26, its departing conductor Sir Simon Rattle presiding over a terse, pithy programme juxtaposing the new and the well-loved.
New was Hannah Kendall's The Spark Catchers, inspired by the Bow Matchwomen's Strike of 1888, a work indeed incendiary. Its opening is nervy and angular, interjections breaking into nascent string ideas, woodwinds fluttering, pizzicato strings interrupting those iridescences. A melody line on violas and cellos laments richly before activity resumes, building to a conclusion which brings a little flourish questioning upwards into the air.
The work is scored for a huge orchestra, its sound perfectly proportioned in the Maltings' framing acoustic. But as many of the extra instruments left the stage we were still left with a 62-piece orchestra, generously complemented, for the Pastoral Symphony, and fears arose anticipating an old-fashioned big-band Beethoven account.
Such fears were unworthy. Rattle, from his work with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, is long experienced in "period" performance, and his shaping of the string sound here brought a lightness and grace, often through vibrato-less attacks on long notes.
"Shaping" is indeed the word to use in the way Rattle moulded a flowing string cushion, creating a natural sense of rubato, and underpinning lively, piping woodwind solos. After an almost musing conclusion to the opening movement the Scene by the Brook babbled idyllically, almost drying up at one point, but turning a bend for a wonderfully controlled hush after the magical birdsong.
The Peasants' Merrymaking bustled a la Brueghel, with enthusiastically bucolic solos from oboe, clarinet and horn before a truly cataclysmic storm intervened, timpani which Beethoven had saved up for this moment roaring, the piccolo shrieking its lightning-flashes.
And so we came to the beatific Shepherds' Hymn, flowing as though all in one phrase, trombones, so threatening in the storm, now nobly balancing the textures and dynamics as the performance came to its comforting conclusion, silence hanging in the air for almost an eternity before applause erupted.
Christopher Morley


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