Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Festival 2011

Before Aldeburgh a visit to neighbouring Norfolk, beyond the small town of Beccles , three miles up a dirt road into Toft Monks where is a granary with an auditorium seating 1400 and, on a platform, no less than four massive Steinways, 9 footers with pianists Piers Lane, Kathron Sturrock, Hamish Milne and Danny Driver. Items: Bach Concertos for 3 and 4 pianos, Milhaud's Paris Suite for four, two Grainger numbers ditto, an interesting duet by York Bowen, the Brahms Variations usually labelled on a theme by Haydn and ending up with a Chaminade piece for six hands at one keyboard (don't squeeze me till I 'm yours). The performances were Immaculate, obeying a golden rule: when in doubt, play softer, not louder. How did this clutch of grands happen to congregate? Through the enthusiasm and expertise of the landlord, Andrew Giller, who cares, caretakes, maintains, hires out, tunes and loves pianos.

So to my 63rd Aldeburgh Festival and the actual 64th: it began, not with a whimper but with the loudest noise imaginable: Messiaen's Et expecto resurrectionem for woodwind, brass, and percussion that consists of tom-toms of many sizes and three tam-tams of vast dimension. When the three of them crescendo stretto one really thought the end was nigh; if it had been painted it would be a mixture of John Martin and Piranesi.


Why on earth did Benjamin Britten choose to set Obey's The Rape of Lucretia as his first chamber opera in1947 two years after his world-wide success with Peter Grimes? Was it an attempt to be 'with it' or to prove something? And why, with his sensitivity to literature, did he put up with his friend Ronald Duncan's translation. True, it has some good lines and ideas, but it also has some horrors. "Oatmeal slippers of night" for example. And then there is that coda that rather priggishly tries to add a Christian gloss to a Roman tale. ? A rum go !This was a concert performance put together by the conductor Oliver Knussen which was more powerful than any, including the composer's, that I have heard, its impact only impeded by Knussen placing the cast behind the orchestra for the sake of stronger control; the result, as usual, was less power and fewer words audible. Except that the Male Chorus was allowed a frontal position and was wonderfully and clearly sung by Ian Bostridge. But the whole cast, like the 13 piece band, performed superbly with Angelika Kirchschlager in the title-role and Peter Coleman-Wright as the one who does the title-deed. General critical opinion that takes plot and text into account tends to down-thumb Lucretia but music lovers pure and simple can find much to enjoy: the women's trio as they fold linen, the act one finale of goodnights (how Britten loves to make music out of names ,catch phrases, times of day), Tarquinius' ride with it's ingenious representation of the different rhythms that a horse's hooves make, trotting, cantering, galloping and so on, the lulling to sleep of Lucretia with bass flute, the rape interlude with it's chorale risibly in the same metre as our national anthem and throughout the brilliantly inventive use of the 13-piece chamber orchestra. (all this mid June 2011).

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