Snape Easter Musical Weekend

TONY COOPER Snape Maltings


> Snape Maltings

The youthful and gifted performers from the Britten-Pears Orchestra and the European Union Youth Orchestra may lack a bit of performing experience but they make up for it in their crammed week of rehearsals.

The opening concert saw the Britten-Pears Orchestra join up with the Joyful Company of Singers for Macmillan's liturgical work Seven Last Words from the Cross.

The composer conducted a performance hard to fault and it made one truly reflect and meditate on the real meaning of Christ's message on the most solemn day of the Church's year - Good Friday.

Earlier in the programme the orchestra gave a thrilling performance of Britten's Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes and performed Debussy's haunting La Mer to near perfection.

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The wind and brass players from the Britten-Pears Orchestra had a chance to shine, too, in their concert at Blythburgh Church.

It proved to be an ideal setting with its bright and clear acoustics.

The programme included an interesting short piece by James Macmillan for brass quintet - Adam's Rib - as well as Britten's Russian Funeral, first performed under the title of War and Death. It was cleverly scored for brass and percussion and had a strong contrapuntal central section of military fanfares that echoed the trumpet call in the War Requiem, the concluding work of the weekend.

Harry Christophers and the Symphony of Harmony and Invention delighted a packed and appreciative house with a programme devoted to Handel arias and orchestral sinfonias, a perfect partnership between this fine orchestra and the mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly.

The concert opened with a spirited performance of the Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, providing a good curtain-raiser for the rest of the programme.

Connolly is a singer of exceptional quality and beauty. She gave a technically-assured performance and was effortless in her delivery and her timing was perfect.

She sang arias from Solomon, Ariodante and Alcina and it's not for nothing that she's singing at Glyndebourne this summer.

The crowning glory of the weekend was, perhaps, Britten's War Requiem, performed by the European Union Youth Orchestra under the direction of Vladimir Askenazy - his first performance of the work.

I never tire of hearing it since attending its first performance in Coventry Cathedral in 1962.

Choral forces came with the Britten-Pears Chamber Choir and the Fairhaven Singers from Cambridge. The trio of soloists kept to Britten's original plan of matching singers from Russia, Britain and Germany. Marina Shaguch (soprano), Mark Tucker (tenor) and Hanno Muller-Brachmann (bass-baritone) put in commanding and energetic performances. And the Tiffin Boys' Choir, with their pure and innocent-sounding voices, provided a perfect off-stage choir.

It's a moving and tender piece and Ashkenazy captured the true spirit of Britten's writing. The orchestra of about 120 was amazing and I don't think I have ever seen so many orchestral and choral forces crammed on to the stage of the Maltings.

It was a glorious weekend of music making and, once again, Snape Maltings showed its special charm.