A thoughtful and enjoyable concert

BPO Winds, Messiaen & Mozart, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings, June 17

Messiaen had a profound attachment to bird-song and it figures prominently in many of his works. In the early 1950’s, under the influence of the noted ornithologist Jacques Delmain, he began to study birds more scientifically (noting pitch and timbre of their songs, for example) and this bore fruit in the Oiseaux Exotiques of 1955-6 for piano, winds and percussion. Pierre-Laurent Aimard gave an explanatory talk full of interesting musical points and insights prior to the performance. A generous 20 minutes, however, was arguably too long and rather upset the balance of the programme. The performance itself was arresting, the players well marshalled by conductor Jamie Man and infusing the music with the sense of excitement and mysticism that lies at the heart of Messiaen.

Mozart’s large-scale wind serenade for thirteen instruments K361, otherwise known as the Gran Partita followed. The first movement shows Mozart’s skill in creating a substantial piece out of an apparently commonplace opening theme and the players gelled together well to deliver a coherent and forceful performance. First oboe and clarinet distinguished themselves with some lovely playing in the third movement and there was a lively sense of fun in the variations of movement six. The finale was excellent, all performers capturing the high spirits of the movement with playing that was both incisive and sensitive.

This was a thoughtful and enjoyable concert, although it was perhaps unfortunate that it unexpectedly extended to over an hour and a half without an interval. Once again the players of the Britten Pears Orchestra demonstrated the combined results of individual ability, intensive study and top quality direction, including guest tutor Sir Colin Davis.

Gareth Jones