Monday, June 26, 2006

COMPOSER CONDUCTING://Knussen in Aldeburgh

By Andrew Clements
From - Tuesday June 20, 2006

The first of the City of Birmingham Symphony's two appearances at this year's Aldeburgh festival should have been conducted by the orchestra's music director Sakari Oramo. But Oramo was unwell, and an Aldeburgh local took over: being able to call on Oliver Knussen as a replacement was a luxury indeed. Being Knussen he did not change the programme, other than to re-order it so that each half began with a Mahler item - What the Wild Flowers Tell Me, Britten's 1940s re-scoring for a normal-size orchestra of the second movement of the Third Symphony, and four of the Knaben Wunderhorn settings, sung with gentle eloquence by mezzo Karen Cargill.
Echoes of Mahler ran through the rest of the concert, too. In Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem, which ended the concert, it is filtered through Alban Berg, in what seems to be one of the composer's most extraordinary achievements. Knussen's balefully direct performance, superbly delivered by the CBSO, underlined how thematically economical the three-movement structure is.
In John Woolrich's 1998 Cello Concerto the Mahlerian connection was more to do with mood. The tone of this bitingly sustained single movement is by turns angry, anguished and elegiac, until it finds a modicum of resolution in the closing moments. Compared with much of Woolrich's music the concerto is rhapsodically expressive, and the ways in which the solo cello (played here with vivid commitment by Jean-Guihen Queyras) is alternately set against one section of the orchestra or reinforced by another, sets up the concerto's discourse and generates its most ravishing moments, especially the dialogue between flute and cello that seems to be the wonderfully understated climax. It is one of the very best things Woolrich has done.

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