Freshness and vitality at the start of the Aldeburgh Festival

Scottish Ensemble, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings, June 15

Under their leader and artistic director, Jonathan Morton, The Scottish Ensemble showed that a small body of strings, just twelve players, need not be confined to the repertoire of the 17th and 18th centuries.

They showed their mettle straight away with a sparkling performance of Hugo Wolf’s most celebrated instrumental work, his quartet movement Italian Serenade, in the composer’s own version for string orchestra, and it was more of Wolf’s music, another arrangement for strings, by John Woolrich,of seven of his Italian Songs which proved to be the most interesting work in the programme. These songs are not highly characterised vocal music: Wolf himself regarded the role of the voice here as just another instrument. The songs which Woolrich has chosen have a homogeneity of atmosphere and languid beauty well suited to strings which Woolrich captures perfectly, most notably in the two in which the viola, sensitively played by Fiona Winning,has the melodic line.

Mendelssohn’s D minor violin concerto is an astonishingly precocious work if you consider he composed it at the age of thirteen. Long consigned to oblivion under the shadow of the E minor, thanks to Menuhin’s edition of it published in 1952, it makes occasional forays into the repertoire. Its a work of formidable technical difficulty, though it posed no problem for the

accomplished playing of Jonathan Morton, though even he failed to convince that musically this is little more than a curiosity.

The Scottish Ensemble brought a freshness and vitality to Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings, even if sometimes one missed the rich sound of a larger body of players.

Frank Cliff

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