Review: Supernatural in Suffolk, Snape Maltings, October 23-25

Dare you take the ghost walk at dusk? Supernatural Suffolk, which will form this year's Britten Week

Dare you take the ghost walk at dusk? Supernatural Suffolk, which will form this year's Britten Weekend at Snape featuring a theatrical-concert performance of Britten's ghostly opera The Turn of the Screw - Credit: Archant

Suffolk’s mysterious landscape has inspired many a ghostly thought (‘Whistle and I’ll come to you’ by M R James is perhaps the most celebrated example) and Benjamin Britten turned Henry James’ novella ‘The Turn of the Screw’ into one of his most inventive and effective operas. All credit, then, to Aldeburgh Music for its weekend ‘Supernatural in Suffolk’, taking the opera as its starting point.

The House of Secret Sounds, part of a series of workshops, which will make-up this year's Britten We

The House of Secret Sounds, part of a series of workshops, which will make-up this year's Britten Weekend at Snape featuring a theatrical-concert performance of Britten's ghostly opera The Turn of the Screw - Credit: Archant

The story itself is far from clear-cut and can still inspire compelling arguments as to whether the ghosts are real or a figment of the febrile imagination of the governess. In a wide-ranging and well planned study day a number of experts discussed the original text, Britten’s operatic techniques and the particular challenges of writing for a chamber orchestra as well as investigating how music can disturb and frighten us.

The Saturday evening performance of the opera was given by The Aurora Orchestra, who in their ten years of playing together have given many concerts that have broken new ground and converted many to classical music. A distinguished cast of singers – Andrew Staples as Quint, Sophie Bevan as the Governess, Jane Irwin as Miss Jessell and Ann Murray’s Mrs Grose was joined by the youthful but highly accomplished duo of Joshua Kenney and Louise Moseley as Miles and Flora. The singing itself was good but the diction was sometimes far from clear; consequently, and without the assistance of surtitles, the action was not always easy to follow. The set was a cage, which nicely emphasised the isolated and introspective setting but there were some questionable aspects such as the video clips which struck a jarring note for little obvious gain. The chamber orchestra, placed on-stage within the cage, played with real sensitivity and understanding under the astute baton of Nicholas Collon and if the overall performance raised a few questions it also provided many good things.

On Sunday afternoon the ghosts returned (or perhaps not) in Beethoven’s piano trio op 70 no 1. The work’s fame and nickname derive from its remarkable slow movement, which Karl Czerny compared to the appearance of the ghost in Hamlet – and with some justification. It was superbly played by the youthful but immensely talented Trio Isimsiz of Pablo Hernan Benedi, Michael Petrov and Erdem Misirlioglu. The latter’s tonal control and fluent dexterity was remarkable and violinist Benedi and cellist Petrov both brought a drive and brio to the outer movements. The other work was as far removed from ghosts as possible, the same composer’s rich and humane Archduke Trio. This was no routine performance and there were some moments and passages which made one think anew, particularly in the opening movement and the wonderful Andante. These young men will surely make their mark in the musical world.

Later in the afternoon a substantial audience returned to the Britten Studio for a showing of Jack Clayton’s celebrated film The Innocents (1961), based on The Turn of the Screw and starring Deborah Kerr as the Governess, now with the name of Miss Giddens. And the above is only a part of what was on offer in a splendidly conceived and constructed programme of events.


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Gareth Jones

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