Review: BBC Symphony Orchestra, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings, June 24

The BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Snape Maltings, with conductor Martyn Brabbins and composer Helen

The BBC Symphony Orchestra at the Snape Maltings, with conductor Martyn Brabbins and composer Helen Grime, for the Aldeburgh Festival. - Credit: Archant

The Maltings stage wore a nautical look on Wednesday with a large, sail-like structure suspended above it. True, three of the five scheduled works had a direct link to the sea but it played a central role in an unusual performance of the final work.

Sibelius’ tone-poem The Oceanides (sea-nymphs) has an arresting opening, so typical of the composer, in which he perfectly balances expansive horizons with a sense of increasing momentum, the woodwind rising figures representing the play of the nymphs. The players of the BBC Symphony Orchestra gave zest and sparkle to the lighter passages and the darker sections carried ominous power; the final climax surged as an all-engulfing wave. Conductor Martin Brabbins, replacing Sakari Oramo, was masterful in vision and control.

Helen Grime’s Everyone Sang was premiered in 2010 for the 75th anniversary of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. It is a generally positive and lively work, the brisk opening quite reminiscent of the second sea interlude from Peter Grimes – a happy coincidence of names. The writing is frequently in the higher registers of the instruments and the crisp playing ensured that the work made its full impact. In contrast to much of what has gone before, the ending is quiet - almost anxious - and this was perfectly captured.

Alice Coote has already appeared at the festival and she gave another outstanding performance – this time in Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. This contains some intense passages and when the music got serious so did Coote, both vocally and visually. Particularly in the lower registers she can produce a mesmeric intensity, even at modest volume and she did so to great effect especially in the final number. But she was equally at home in the lighter passages and she was sensitively accompanied throughout by the orchestra under the wise and experienced Brabbins.

Frank Bridge’s The Sea has some claim to fame, if only as the piece that so impressed the ten year old Benjamin Britten. It is a work of high competence and craftsmanship but in a generally conservative style. It was intelligently interpreted and strongly played but rather overshadowed by what followed, both from his young pupil and in the concert itself.

To conclude the evening The Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes were joined by the opera’s Passacaglia and presented with video and animation designed by Tal Rosner, the addition of the Passacaglia a co-commision by Aldeburgh Music and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. The material is fast moving, sometimes abstract, sometimes landscape, frequently American cityscape but little trace of Aldeburgh. Not everyone will have enjoyed it and some may question the necessity for it at all but for me, and on this occasion, it worked. I found myself gripped and the music seemed enhanced and more overwhelming. I might not feel the same on a second viewing but in this instance it made a striking end to a fine concert.

Gareth Jones

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