Review: Aldeburgh Strings, Snape, October 21

Aldeburgh Strings, Snape, October 21

The mini festival of Britten, Poulenc and Copland concluded with two of the most striking string compositions from the last century on either side of some lesser known Britten.

Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis needs no introduction and when played with the commitment and sensitivity from the outstanding Aldeburgh Strings it still produces a sense of awe and wonder, a century after its appearance. The hushed opening bars were magical, as were the echoes and interchanges between the different groups.

Britten’s Lachrymae: Reflections on a Song of John Dowland is a substantial work for solo viola, originally composed with piano but later arranged by the composer for viola and strings. Mate Szucs, first solo player with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, has an imposing stage presence and drew the audience completely into the work. Particularly effective was the final section where we were treated to some fine viola playing.

This was followed by the short but effective Prelude and Fugue for 18 part string orchestra, a commission from Boyd Neel and similar in style to the Bridge Variations.


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Britten, like so many music lovers, was deeply shaken by the death of the horn virtuoso Dennis Brain in 1957 and began a memorial piece to him for four horns, strings and tubular bells a few months later. He never completed the work and Colin Matthews recently realized the sketches. They were intelligently played and the unexpected ending left quite an impression.

Rudolf Barshai’s arrangement of Shostakovitch’s eighth quartet drew intensely committed and, in the second movement, ferocious playing from the strings. The bleak stillness at the opening of the third movement and the repeated savage outbursts struck at the very core of one’s emotions and at the end there was no more to say. This was excellent string playing at the service of some great music.

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Gareth Jones.

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