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June, 2016

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There was a blackcap singing from a treetop as though in overture to the concert. On a cold, wet day nearer midwinter than midsummer we had, nonetheless bought freshly landed crab for the evening meal but rejected thoughts of a boat trip round Havergate Island.

With unreserved seats it is always advisable to arrive early. We were lucky: the Lady Chapel, its light constantly burning, is one of those medieval survivals characteristically quirky in one of the most Protestant and chapel-minded counties. From our place it was possible to see side-on, and between items look at the table, perhaps Tudor from its turned legs beneath the altar cloth. Beyond the organ to north is the blocked Norman arch to the collapsed chancel. During the interval there was a brass image and a wall memorial, both to former priests of the parish. The latter had officiated for 80 years and had lived to be 110.

For a concert venue of the annual Aldeburgh Festival the church has an appropriate sculpture of Noah and the dove, presented by Friends of the Festival. By the north door is a list of benefactors dating, from its style, to the seventeenth century, bearing the names of Bacon (of nearby Friston perhaps), Blois and Ufford among others.
Even out of concert season these, and the interactive local history display beneath a drawing of the statue of St Bartholomew, the patron saint whose sculpture stands on the porch, make the church a good place to visit. It is one the “1000 Best”.

The church tower, like Orford castle at the other end of the small market place, was a landmark for early seamen. Today the village is a venue for fish meals, birdwatching and visits to the eerie Orford Ness with its former weapons research station.

Not for us this day, but a concert by two composers vehemently opposed to matters military. Like others in the current season, BBC Radio 3 is to broadcast this during the week after the Festival, from 29 June, so anyone not present may listen and compare their impressions with mine.

Britten’s very early Three Divertimenti were harshly criticised on first performance, it would seem now because of the composer’s youth (he was 20). It is hard to see why, since the work seemed more unified and felt rather than thought as seemed to us with his first quartet composed ten years later. Tippett’s Songs for Achilles, work of the mature composer derived from his King Priam that had thrilled us during its first performances at the Royal Opera House in 1961, not only revived that memory but also presented a moving and beautiful characterisation of the cost of war. The first half ended with a guitar solo, Britten’s Nocturnal after John Dowland, exquisitely played.

Afterwards came Songs from the Chinese, settings by Britten of Arthur Waley’s translations contrasting seasons, of which we’d had all during June, and youth and age as well as, in the final Dance Song, the passing of value – even if mythical, of a unicorn. In the Lady Chapel thoughts of the wonderful tapestry in Paris might come to mind. Finally we heard the splendid second string quartet by Tippett, composed at about the same time as “A Child of Our Time” and hinting, as often happens, of work to come – in this case it seemed the Fanatsia Concertante on a theme of Corelli.
I should add, too, the crab when we had dinner that evening was wonderful.


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