Seen and Heard Concert Review
(8): Events for Saturday 18.06. 2006 (JW)
Southwold Pier (12 Noon):The Original Chinese Conjuror
What the Wild Things
Tell Me (1893-6,
arr. Britten 1941) Songs from Das Knaben Wunderhorn.
John Woolrich (b. 1954) Cello
Concerto (1988) Britten
Sinfonia da Requiem
busy middle weekend of the festival began with a pleasant
trip to the nearby seaside resort of Southwold, where
the Aldeburgh Almeida Opera Group's production 'The Original
Chinese Conjuror' was taking place in a room above the
pier. This work is not 'opera' in any strict sense, 'musical
theatre' would be a much more correct genre, and the terms
'vaudeville' or 'cabaret' would not be far off the mark
either. It is a lively and entertaining show, based on
the life of an unsuccesful magician, who decided to add
novelty to his act by pretending to be Chinese.
the counter-tenor, attracted a lot of interest for his
role as Ping. However, I would also commend the tenor,
Phillip Sutton, who has to take a wide variety of
small parts and who conducted this feat of versatility
with considerable aplomb. The stalwart and inventive wife
of the hapless magician is also well played by Sophie
If you are
looking for a serious contemporary opera, this is not
for you. If you would enjoy something entertaining on
stage in the summer, it may fit the bill. I think it would
tour well to festivals.
In the evening, the CBSO were conducted by Oliver Knussen (substituting at very short notice for Sakari Oramo, who had been taken ill) in a demanding programme at Snape Maltings. The first half of the programme opened strongly with well-crafted playing and singing in Mahler's What the Wild Flowers Tell Me, in the reduced version for smaller forces arranged by Britten. Although a smaller venue than Symphony Hall, Birmingham, where they had played only four days previously, the venue suits the orhestra's sound very well. (Another performance from the CBSO was to close the festival, and is available on the Radio 3 website). The listener would not have been aware that Oliver Knussen was not the scheduled conductor had they not been notified of this change. Mr Knussen brought effortless mastery to a fine performance and in stepping in so very creditably, he is surely the star of the show.
Photo: Jeremy Young
The cello concerto by the festival's Associate Artistic Director John Woolrich, opened with a lengthy solo section. Strings then joined the cello after a dramatic drumroll. Both of these forms recur, another lengthy unaccompanied section for the cello being about fifteen minutes into the work. Further drumrolls punctuate delicate uplifting sections where the flute has an extended and admirably played solo section near the end of the work.) The programme generously and helpfully provided notes by the composer himself,
'My cello concerto starts softly, high in the cello's register, and gently and slowly falls towards the 'earth' of a full-footed hocket for cello and orchestra (coloured by two kinds of exotic drums: a taiko and three djun djuns.) The orchestra amplifies and extends the timbre of the cello: particuarly the dark (low brass, drums and tympani), the lyrical (flugel horn, for instance) and the soft (low, whispering strings).'
The inspiration for the piece is the darkness just before dawn and the first light of daybreak. It is dedicated to the young composer and flautist Jo Johnson, who died in 1997.
Photo: Paul Morris
The second half opened with a fine but not exceptional performance of a selection of Mahler's Wunderhorn songs. The highlight of the evening however was the following work, Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem. This work is being played quite frequently at the moment, featuring for example in the recent Shostakovich and his Contemporaries series in Manchester's Bridgewater Hall. This performance at Aldeburgh began more slowly and with a more diffuse approach, which enabled it to build to a more sudden climax, with considerable dramatic effect. The trumpet deserves special mention. This exciting performance brought a standing ovation, with cheers form the audience, for Oliver Knussen and the CBSO.
The special atmosphere of the festival here at Aldeburgh was particularly apparent on this very lovely evening, with evening light across the marshes enabling some members of the audience to enjoy birdwatching during the interval as well as music in the concert hall !