Review: Aldeburgh Festival, CBSO/Rattle, Snape Maltings, June 10

Aldeburgh Festival, CBSO/Rattle, Snape Maltings, June 10

The 64th Aldeburgh Festival began with a concert by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Simon Rattle in which Messiaen and Mahler, in their contrasting ways, confront what the perceptive programme note described as Last Things.

Messiaen, a man of strong and secure Catholic faith, commented that the orchestration of his work Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum (it consists of a threefold orchestra of wind, brass and metallic percussion) ‘intends it for vast spaces, cathedrals ….. even open air and on mountain heights’

The opening movement began with, groping, growling brass ‘a cry from the Abyss’, the second more martial with many bells. The third contained an overwhelming tam tam crescendo as well as bird song and the fourth added cowbells and trumpet Alleluias in a stirring vision of glorious resurrection. The final movement, carved out of massive blocks of sound occasionally sounded rather like a brass foundry in full production but there was no denying the power and authority of the music and the impact of the performance.

Das Lied von der Erde requires a very large orchestra and one initially wondered how an indisposed Magdalena Kozena would fare against such forces. In the event she sang very well and Jane Irwin was an unused substitute. Rattle and the players produced playing of the highest refinement and delicacy, Kozena picked up the autumnal weariness of the second movement effectively and was deeply moving in the final Der Abschied. Michael Schade carried off his exposed first entry with aplomb and captured the troubled, contrasting emotions of the drunkard in the fifth movement, where he received excellent support from the violins in their high, busy passages.

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The orchestra were superb throughout but really shone in the last movement, nowhere more so than as the music faded into the farthest reaches of awareness and existence. Nobody moved until the inspirational Simon Rattle finally released us from the spell.

Gareth Jones

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