Review: Ipswich School Festival of Music, St Mary-le-Tower

Ipswich School Festival of Music, Britten and Wagner, St Mary-le-Tower, October 1st

Both Britten and Wagner have had notable anniversaries this year (100 and 200 respectively) and Ipswich School’s Festival of Music paid tribute to them with a judiciously chosen lunchtime concert comprising the former’s rarely performed Sinfonietta opus 1 and the latter’s well known Siegfried Idyll. Both works are scored for small forces which gave an air of economy and efficiency to the proceedings.

Britten’s precocious youth is well known but not all his early compositions have established themselves firmly in the repertory, the Sinfonietta being one such example. It was good to hear this lively, inventive work, clearly influenced by some composers from Europe but also containing some touches of pastoral Englishness that were less apparent in his later music. The scoring for quintets of strings and wind allows for great variety of tone and timbre and a feeling of litheness and energy, particularly in the finale. The players, led by Kathryn Parry were nimble and responsive to conductor Andrew Leach, particularly in the tarantella finale.

Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, written as a Christmas offering to his second wife, Cosima, to celebrate the birth of their son. It is more expansive and relaxed than the Britten and, though employing a mere thirteen instruments, still manages to create some rich and arresting harmonies and the entrance of Ian Abbott’s silver-toned trumpet raised the emotional temperature several degrees. The wind playing was particularly accomplished but great credit is also due to the five string players, usually playing in groups, but here entirely on their own in their separate, often challenging parts. Their commitment, tone and accuracy were strong contributory factors in a warm and touching performance. Andrew Leach, director of the festival, conducted with authority, clarity and precision. Exceptional lunch-time fare.

Gareth Jones.