Lond. Sinfonietta, BBC Singers/Orchestra

TONY COOPER Snape Maltings

TONY COOPER

> Snape Maltings

Now heading for its 60th birthday, the Aldeburgh Festival always produces exciting and well-balanced contemporary programmes.

Conducted by Nicholas Kok, the main work was Harrison Birtwistle's new piece, Neruda Madrigales, based on the poem Ode to the Double Autumn by Pablo Neruda, the Chilean who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971.


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Scored for eight wind instruments, a cimbalom, harp, percussion and 32 voices, it explores the full range of the voice, especially the soprano, punctuated by thrilling sounds from marimba and vibraphone with dark and jazzy tones from bass clarinets.

Before the performance, the poem was read by Timothy Davies in Spanish and English but it was sung in Spanish with each section consisting of an atmospheric setting followed by a simpler summarising chorale. The effect was quite haunting and mystical.

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It was a challenging work and one that the choir, in particular, effortlessly exploited.

Other items included works by Stravinsky and Monteverdi as well as an unusual piece by the 20th-century Venetian composer Bruno Maderna, written to mark the launch of a satellite in the Sixties – Serenata per un Satellite. Erratic sounds from a multitude of woodwind instruments produced a syncopated assortment of noises, effective and strong, in a novel piece of writing.

Another new piece was premiered, with Tansy Davies' spine, written for the same instrumentation as Birtwistle's.

I hope that the members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra enjoyed their fling at the seaside before heading off to the Proms next month.

Conducted by Edward Gardner, we were treated to a cracking good programme that opened with a rare performance of Fireworks – a dazzling four-minute showpiece by Stravinsky – before Oliver Knussen's Flourish with Fireworks, a work he modelled on the Stravinsky piece, which he so much admired.

The world premiere of Colin Matthews' Fanfare and Flourish with Fireflies followed and completed a trio of short – but very effective – works.

It was a joy to hear the suite from The Sleeping Beauty by Tchaikovsky played with such clarity and precision and heard against orchestrations from The Sleeping Beauty by Stravinsky, who so much admired his fellow Russian composer.

The centenary of Sir Michael Tippett was acknowledged by an enlightened and well-read performance of his second symphony.

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