Review: Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Aldeburgh Festival, Snape Maltings, June 20

MCO & Patricia Kopatchinskaja at Aldeburgh Festival Photo: Beki Smith

MCO & Patricia Kopatchinskaja at Aldeburgh Festival Photo: Beki Smith - Credit: Archant

This was a concert with some familiar names – Bartok and Stravinsky - but Guillaume de Machaut and Gyorgy Ligeti are less widely recognised and perhaps this accounted for a smaller than usual audience. Nevertheless, the players of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra performed with distinction in an eclectic and stimulating programme.

Bartok’s Divertimento for Strings is a late work, written in 1939, and owing much to his native culture. He had drawn heavily on Hungarian folk music in earlier compositions and the strong, stamping figure that opens the work is typical of the genre.

Performed without a conductor, the music had a bristling energy and momentum. The slow movement’s dark and brooding character was well captured and the agonised outbursts struck home unerringly. The finale, reminiscent of earlier concerti grosso and with a delightful pizzicato passage near the end, was riveting.

Stravinsky’s ‘The Soldier’s Tale’ was originally composed in 1918 as a travelling theatre piece for narrator, dancer and chamber ensemble of seven instrumentalists; a concert suite followed two years later. The composer’s fertile imagination and invention is evident everywhere from the jaunty and cynical marches to the effective evocation of running water.

Dance, of course, is what Stravinsky made his name with and the three dances in the suite are perfect miniatures and utterly delightful. All instrumentalists were on top form and their individual contributions full of colour and character.

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The second half opened with an arrangement for two violins and two cellos of an extract from the Kyrie of Machaut’s Messe de Notre Dame, written in the mid fourteenth century. It was a dignified and moving few minutes prior to a quiet rearrangement of personnel and a shift of several centuries that took us seamlessly into the opening bars of Ligeti’s violin concerto, written in the early 1990s. It is a significant and inventive work with much use of percussion, some unusual wind (whistles, mouth-organs) and glissando strings.

Patricia Kopatchinskaja, was a fine and arresting soloist, harmonics sailed sweetly through the air, her lower notes were warm and rich and the uncredited conductor directed a wholly compelling performance.

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Gareth Jones

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