Review: William Alwyn Festival, BBC Concert Orchestra, Snape Maltings, October 5

The BBC Concert Orchestra who performed at this year's Alwyn Festival at the Snape Maltings Concert

The BBC Concert Orchestra who performed at this year's Alwyn Festival at the Snape Maltings Concert Hall - Credit: Archant

Two generations ago the name of William Alwyn would have been familiar to film goers as the composer of the music for many of the most celebrated British films of the mid twentieth century. He also composed widely across several classical genres and this year’s William Alwyn Festival (the sixth) again performed the valuable service of presenting a range of his music over five days in the area close to Blythburgh, where Alwyn lived for the last twenty four years of his life.

In the orchestral concert at Snape Alwyn was represented by his Third Symphony with extracts from the suite for the film ‘Odd Man Out’ to open the programme. The film-noir atmosphere of the 1940’s was immediately evident and, equally, the mastery of orchestration and depiction of mood. The BBC Concert Orchestra under conductor John Gibbons played with relish and commitment.

This was followed by Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto with Jennifer Pike as soloist. Her tone was sweet and beguiling and her top notes immaculate but the orchestral accompaniment in the first movement occasionally sounded routine and over-prominent. There was more finesse in the slow movement with nicely balanced wind and Pike weaving delicate threads through the texture. The finale had all the required elan and the performance drew enthusiastic applause.

The second half opened with music that Walton composed for the celebrated ‘Battle of Britain’ film, although the majority of it failed to make the final cut. Nevertheless, much of it is vintage Walton and it was good to hear it played with style and brio.

Alwyn’s Third Symphony was commissioned by the BBC and dates from the mid 1950’s. In a few illuminating words John Gibbons suggested an association with the prevailing Cold War mood of the time and there is certainly more than a hint of espionage hardware at work in the restless and unsettling opening. The overriding impression of a strong and committed performance was of a composer in total technical control of his forces if not always finding the highest levels of thematic inspiration. That said, conductor and orchestra created some monumental effects throughout the work and the slow movement had a brooding, enigmatic air that would repay further acquaintance.


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All serious concert goers should welcome the chance to hear good quality but less frequently performed music and the William Alwyn Foundation is to be congratulated for this enterprising and enjoyable event.

Gareth Jones

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