Playing that was a joy to witness

Britten-Pears Orchestra, Snape Proms, Sibelius & Strauss, Snape Maltings; August 8

The Britten Pears Orchestra fulfils a vital role in helping aspiring professional musicians to bridge the gap between their training and securing their first footholds in the musical world. As might be expected with young, highly trained musicians eager to make their mark, musical standards are extremely high and this concert, hard on the heels of the National Youth Orchestra, was a powerful reminder of the quality and quantity of young musical talent eager to take its place on stage.

The opening work, Sibelius’s Karelia Overture, has a familiar enough name but the piece is distinct from the more familiar Suite op 11. It opens in a confident blaze of C major, the strings rich and strong and conductor Kirill Karabits balancing his enthusiastic forces into a satisfying whole.

Strauss’s Symphonic poem Death and Transfiguration inhabits a more complex world and asks harder technical questions. The hesitant rhythms and exposed solos at the start demand technical control and strong nerves and the players were fully equal to the task. This is a piece that, for all its many merits, can sound less than wholly satisfying if the climaxes are not properly judged and it is greatly to Karabit’s credit that he guided the players to a perfectly controlled final fortissimo and a calm, dignified close.

Despite Sibelius’s later symphonic achievements his first symphony is a fine and confident journey into this most demanding of musical arenas. The clarinet solo at the very start was utterly compelling in its dark brooding, the icy shimmering of the strings almost shocking in comparison. Here was Sibelius the describer of the Finnish landscape, steep gullies suddenly giving way to spectacular views (and vice-versa), a tricky mountain path leading to the disconcertingly terse ending. Surely this is one of the most impressive first movements of a first symphony?

The second movement is less original but calls for passion and �lan in places and the strings surged downward like a great bird as the woodwind and brass provided dark and angry interjections. The scherzo contained virtuoso performances from all parts of the orchestra but delivered with a sensitive awareness of their position in the larger picture.

The somewhat episodic but undeniably exciting finale was a triumph for both orchestra and conductor. Kirill Karabits, as he had in the Strauss, showed himself a master of tempo control and getting the climaxes exactly right. The orchestra responded to him as true professionals, confident in his ability to guide them; they played with a dynamism and unity of purpose that was a joy to witness. And not only did they sound good but they also looked good – smartly and consistently dressed, in contrast to the National Youth Orchestra two days previously.

Most Read

Gareth Jones

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter