Review: Halle Orchestra, Britten & Wolfgang Rhim, Snape Maltings, June 23

The sixty-sixth Aldeburgh Festival reached its conclusion with this concert, largely given over to music by the local colossus who helped found the festival and whose compositions have provided the spine of this year’s celebrations.

The first half contained two relative rarities, beginning with the Pas de Six from the ballet The Prince of the Pagodas. The work was not an initial success but it is gradually becoming more appreciated and it contains some exciting music, Mark Elder encouraging the Halle to some infectious and dazzling playing.

Our Hunting Fathers was the result of a collaboration with WH Auden whom Britten had met while both were working for the GPO film unit in the mid-1930’s. Auden was the older and more precocious of the two and he produced an original, if occasionally daunting, text dealing with man’s relationship to animals. Britten was inspired, perhaps pushed, by Auden to levels of virtuosity and brilliance hitherto unreached but after an initial success de scandale the work fell out of favour. Emma Bell launched herself into the often vertiginous vocal lines with confidence and clarity, Elder and the Halle contributing an astonishingly original orchestral commentary. If the work was not easy to grasp at one hearing the outstanding performance coupled with Elder’s eloquent commentary will have persuaded many to listen again.

The second half opened with the world premiere of Wolfgang Rhim’s A Tribute (Uber die Linie V111). The subject of the tribute is unspecified – Britten is an obvious suggestion - but there are no musical references to him and the tribute is a wider one, to British composers and their music in general. The work is properly serious and perhaps rather monolithic but it demonstrates an underlying warmth and there were fine contributions from all sections of the orchestra.

The concluding work – Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Purcell – The Young Persons Guide to the Orchestra was given with its original commentary and spoken with exemplary clarity and emphasis by Halle horn player and Radio 3 announcer Tom Redmond. The Halle played it for all they were worth and if the audience was not really composed of young persons what did that matter? In any case, the youngsters had enjoyed their own performance earlier in the afternoon. The choice was apposite in more ways than one, for the work has helped many on their way to a love and appreciation of music and it stands as a shining example of Britten’s professed determination that he, as a composer, should be useful to the community. The polished performance rounded off a remarkable festival and celebration with a sense of shared gratitude and pride in the music of this great, local man.

Gareth Jones.