Concerto Italiano, Oliver Jacob Kullberg

TONY COOPER Snape Maltings (Aldeburgh Festival)


Snape Maltings

After a marvellous production of Britten's Death in Venice at the Maltings premiered here in 1973 with the ailing composer absent, the Italian theme of the festival continued over the weekend with Concerto Italiano, a striking ensemble of just seven singers, immaculate in sound, under the direction of Rinaldo Alessandrini.

Their performance of Monteverdi's set of 18 madrigals, Il Sesto Libro de Madrigali, was mesmerising and richly enhanced by being sung in the native language. They were written in 1608 to mourn the death of his wife.

Oliver Knussen, former artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival, mourned the death of his wife, too - a champion of contemporary music - in a piece completed last year entitled In Requiem - Songs for Sue. It owes it origins to the lines from Rilke's Requiem for a Friend. The words (set in the original German text) became the postlude to a haunting sequence of lines from Emily Dickinson and poems from Antonio Machado and WH Auden. It was admirably sung by soprano Claire Booth.

Knussen shared with Britten, his mentor, a love for Stravinsky (who is buried in Venice) and it was appropriate that the opening piece was by this master of the 20th century. His Eight Instrumental Miniatures were simply a joy to hear while the final offering by John Woolrich, Going a Journey (a new work deriving its title from an 1822 essay by William Hazlitt) ended a superb programme showing that contemporary music is flourishing.

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It also showcased attractive new works by two brilliant young composers: Johannes Maria Staud's Sydenham Music (an Aldeburgh Festival commission) and Luke Bedford's Now Everything is Uncontrolled. Knussen, however, was firmly in control. His concerts are extremely well programmed, interesting and, above all, entertaining.

The final offering of the weekend transported us from the tranquil zephyr winds of the Adriatic to the less warm climes of the North Sea. A packed house was holed up in the Jubilee Hall on a bleak day to hear the young Danish cellist, Jacob Kullberg. A master of his instrument he gave a technically-assured performance which included two sonatas by Per Norgard ending with Britten's first cello suite written for the late, great Rostropovich.

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