Compariable with the best

Britten-Pears Orchestra, Snape Maltings, August 16 There can be few opening bars as testing for an orchestra as those from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde.

Britten-Pears Orchestra, Snape Maltings, August 16

There can be few opening bars as testing for an orchestra as those from Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. It is not just the notes but getting the atmosphere right that demands such concentration and precision.

The players of the Britten-Pears Orchestra under secure baton of Vasily Petrenko did not put a foot wrong - the oboe playing was of the highest class - and Wagner's visionary chromaticism emerged in all its glory, the inner parts emerging with thrilling clarity. Petrenko had the tempo just right and the increasing frustration towards the climax of the Liebestod was perfectly judged.

Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen are strikingly assured pieces for a composer in his early twenties.

Thematically integrated with the first symphony they speak mainly of the difficulties of young love particularly when the narrator's first love marries someone else. Christian Gerhaher and the orchestra imparted a spring-like freshness to the second song and a terrifying fury to the third with its brilliant visions of the knife's blade.

Yet it was the richly consoling fourth song with its muted strings and Gerhaher's fine control of tone and volume that made the deepest impression.

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Shostakovitch's Symphony No1 is arguably an even more impressive achievement than the Mahler, bearing in mind that the work received its first performance when the composer was 19. It has the confidence, sometimes the swagger, of youth but, perhaps more remarkably, the sense of tension and unease that we know so well from his later works - as if Shostakovitch, even at such an early age, had a foreboding, or even understanding, of the personal and political demons that were to haunt him in the future.

The players, youthful like the composer, and the conductor - born in the same city as Shostakovitch - combined to give a performance of outstanding commitment and intensity. The second movement was brilliant and skittish but it was the intense, brooding slow movement with its echoes of the vast Russian acres that really hit the mark.

Once again the Britten-Pears Orchestra has demonstrated its ability to stand comparison with the very best.

Gareth Jones

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