Review: Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Oliver Knussen; Aldeburgh Festival; Snape; June 9

A concert consisting of some of the more challenging music of the last century nevertheless attracted a good number to the Maltings on Saturday.

Charles Ives is one of the more interesting personalities in the lexicon of composers and his short piece ‘Washington’s Birthday’ demonstrates his open-mindedness and free-thinking approach to composition. As the tune of Goodnight Ladies faded into nothingness there was no doubting that this composer may be a bit different but that he says something worth hearing.

In place of a projected work for piano and orchestra by the conductor Oliver Knussen, we had a performance of Alexander Goehr’s ‘Marching to Carcassonne’, serenade for piano and chamber orchestra. A substantial work, it commands both attention and respect for its inventive orchestral colours and structural cohesion. The pianist was Peter Serkin, dressed in sharp three-piece and bright tie, visually more akin to someone dealing in notes of a different kind. However, his absorption in, and commitment to, the piece was total and there was an underlying energy and purpose to the music that overcame frequent outbursts of extravagant coughing.

The second half began with Stravinsky’s highly condensed and epigrammatic Movements, for piano and orchestra, Serkin once again giving proof of his intellectual grasp and technical accomplishment required for this tricky piece. Knussen conducted with a calm, clear beat and the orchestra were crisp and alert with their many interjections.

The concert concluded with Berg’s Three Movements from his Lyric Suite, arranged by him for string orchestra. They capture the often febrile atmosphere of Vienna at the time and the players gave their all, especially in the nightmarish scurrying of the Allegro Misterioso.

There was a pleasant postscript to the evening as Oliver Knussen was presented with an award for his distinguished services to music by the critic Geoffrey Norris and replied with a masterful demonstration of wit and brevity.

Gareth Jones