Review: Britten-Pears Orchestra / Gardner, Snape Maltings, August 13

A programme containing Berio and Lutoslawski, albeit eased by Rachmaninov’s sumptuous Symphonic Dances promised challenges and rewards and so it proved on Saturday evening. The three works could all be viewed as symphonies, although only one carried the name.

As is well known, Schubert left us his glorious Unfinished Symphony but at his death there were fragmentary sketches for a tenth symphony. 161 years later Luciano Berio completed his so-called Rendering of these sketches. Where Schubert had left sufficiently extended material, Berio simply set that music for the orchestral forces used by Schubert in his Unfinished. In order to link these sections Berio provided additional music, not in imitation of Schubert, but of his own making and using a celesta to notable effect. The result was both fascinating and convincing, the original music suddenly dissolving into a kaleidoscopic pattern and then emerging to continue its journey. The players showed poise and delicacy in negotiating these transitions and conductor Edward Gardner was clear and authoritative.

Lutoslawski’s single movement Symphony No 4 began with a fine clarinet solo followed by crashing chords, outbursts from percussion and furious scurrying in the strings, rather suggestive of atoms and molecules in motion. Gardner extracted massive but perfectly balanced sounds from the players and created a powerful sense of the universal and being in the midst of something big.

The colourful Symphonic Dances afford orchestras a splendid opportunity to create intoxicating sounds, from the saxophone solo in the first dance to the somewhat sinister waltz of the second. Gardner gave the orchestra full rein and they responded superbly, playing with a precision and �lan that captured the cutting edge of Rachmaninov’s inspiration, particularly the surging strings in the last movement. Young, enthusiastic musicians and an inspirational conductor are a winning combination.

Gareth Jones

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