Thursday, June 16, 2022

Snape Maltings Concert Hall, Snape, Suffolk

In the first of two back-to-back Aldeburgh Festival concerts (both live on Radio 3), Martyn Brabbins and BBCNOW opened with Elizabeth Maconchy’s Proud Thames, from 1953. From a gentle dawn-like trumpet-call and weaving woodwinds to ever-fuller and -louder orchestration, the River takes a scenic journey from its starting point to arrive in London to honour the (then new) Queen with a majestic flourish – all navigated with surety by Captain Brabbins, a well-appointed compass, and rowing-as-one NOW shipmates.

(Then James Murphy of the Royal Philharmonic Society presented Honorary Membership to Sir Humphrey Burton,

Following the interval, Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony (first-performed 1953, Mravinsky), a signed score that comes from the depths to (maybe) a forced optimistic ending. Without second-guessing what might lie beneath the notes, Brabbins scrutinised the lengthy opening Moderato (twenty-five minutes on this ooccasion) with subtle shades and dynamics, conveying inward feelings (an especially haunting clarinet solo along the way), building the music organically to fierce declamation without disrupting the symphonic line: a soul trying to break free but, really, there is no way out … except, next, to throw darts at Stalin, or at least portray him unfavourably at a deliberate instead of a breakneck speed: menacing rather than frenzied, and musically, with an ear-catching drop to pianissimo in the strings that suggested the subject had left the room before bursting back in. Surprise! Enigmas abound in the third movement: the horn’s motifs sounding over a sparse landscape, poignancies, a subito oriental dance, massed horns exulting (Brabbins expanding here if not as much as Temirkanov’s half-tempo digressions, however thrilling) and, at the close, a fade to nothingness that suggested anything previously seen was a mirage. The Finale’s slow introduction brooded on questions not answered, before the Allegro hopped skipped and jumped into a resounding assertion of the composer’s DSCH autograph; then time to reflect before energising to jump the ultimate timpani-salvoed hurdles to conclude a rendition at-once scrupulous and penetrating.

As the concert’s centrepiece, Laura van der Heijden gave a wonderfully communicative account of William Walton’s Cello Concerto, a late-1950s’ commission for Piatigorsky and the Boston Symphony, probably the least-favoured of the composer’s three string-instrument Concertos, music that rhapsodises and romances, and suggests Mediterranean breezes, and in which woodwind and horn solos were as distinguished as van der Heijden’s unaffected ones, and she pulled of a coup by not rushing the second movement – time for pointing and detailing, also an advantage for Walton’s use of the orchestra. The longest movement is the Finale, of various episodes – which Walton termed ‘Improvisations’, threaded by a theme – for the cello alone, and for an unleashed orchestra, music that muses, paints pictures, exhilarates, and concludes with the sun going down, exquisitely held together here. Cellist, conductor and ensemble displayed exemplary teamwork in this ravishing and stimulating performance, especially compelling in the concluding, satisfied, minutes.