Review: Suffolk Youth Orchestra, Snape Proms, Snape Maltings, August 4

The Suffolk Youth Orchestra under its conductor, Philip Shaw, has maintained a high reputation over several years for the quality and commitment of its music making. In this fine concert some of Britten’s lighter and less well-known music was paired with one of the most significant and emotionally-charged symphonies of the twentieth century.

In the difficult aftermath of the second world, one notable event was the BBC’s introduction of the avowedly highbrow Third Programme, now less forbiddingly named Radio 3. Britten was commissioned to write a piece for the opening and the result was the ‘Occasional Overture’ Even with the best efforts of conductor and orchestra there seemed little of merit in the music and the composer was surely right to remove it from his catalogue.

Despite its initial failure Britten’s opera ‘Gloriana’ contains a great deal of attractive and inventive music, the Courtly Dances being a notable example and it is little wonder that they have found a life of their own, independent of the opera. His skill in orchestration enabled him to recreate the Elizabethan world with uncanny accuracy and the players responded with polished and sympathetic playing. The extrovert ‘Matinees Musicales’ allowed all sections of the orchestra to shine and there were some lovely moments, courtesy of the wind players.

Shostakovitch’s Fifth Symphony ‘A Soviet Artist’s response to Just Criticism’ is an enormously rewarding work to perform, the political and personal issues surrounding its composition never failing to provoke interest and discussion, particularly amongst the young. The first movement had total commitment, from the opening string figures, through the massive climax to the ghostly closing phrases from the celeste. The slow movement went straight to the bleak, infinite vistas of the Russian plains and the divided strings held their lines firmly and accurately. The double-edged jollity of the finale was well captured, the odd coarse moment easily overlooked in the tumult. Particular praise is due to leader Katie Payne, a mere sixteen but already an accomplished performer, and to all section principals for their distinguished contributions. Philip Shaw conducted with complete musical authority and the symphony’s closing bars seemed to emphasize the excellence of all that had gone before.

Gareth Jones

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