Concert reviews must be frustrating for anyone not able to attend, and can be annoying for those present who may disagree. Both have a chance to think about this concert, which was broadcast on Radio 3 and so will be available on i-player. Other concerts are going to be on lunch-time broadcasts too.
The Aldeburgh Festival, which these days only sets the occasional concert in the town of its origin nonetheless has other events there throughout its duration. More of these another time.
For a change this particular June evening was a fine one, though beginning with some threatening cloud. Arrival at the Maltings is easy for us, and the way through to the parking area is well-marshalled.
Not just a concert hall. the Maltings complex has a good gastro pub, daytime shopping of several kinds from greetings cards and CDs to antiques and craft furniture. There are also apartments in one of the buildings: very nice if you can afford it, though perhaps a bit short of things to do out of concert season. (As to price, the local press pointed out that teachers can no longer afford to live on the “Heritage Coast,” so buyers of the new estate housing at Snape had better be childless or hope for teachers with good cars.)
A first glance revealed one BBC van in the car park and another behind the offices. They were temporarilly resident, so not facing the genteel traffic chaos of trying to leave after the concert.
Permanently resident are some celebrated art works: Barbara Hepworth’s “Family” gazes out to sea; Henry Moore’s reclining woman perhaps sleeps facing the village. Other sculptures find temporary sites and attract considerable attention.
The concert hall restaurant is said to have been revamped. We will explore one day, hoping to reverse our unfavourable opinion from the last visit. That would be good if possible, because once there was decent food at reasonable prices. I remember the evening’s performer, Ian Bostridge, in earlier days there having a meal after the show and open to passing greetings and comments.
Inside the Maltings there’s a portrait bust of the Festival’s founder, Benjamin Britten, with his partner Peter Pears nearby and Imogen Holst not far away. On the staircase landing is a magnificent John Piper oil painting, with some Victorian portraits of the maltsters on the way into the hall.
The hall itself is one of the finest in the UK, with precise acoustics and sightlines so good any seat is satisfactory – not very comfortable, however, and we’d forgotten our cushions! As to the concert, with no photography permitted and apologies for lack of focus in flash-off interiors, the singing was magnificent: Britten’s “Winter Words” set to Thomas Hardy was a tour de force. It demonstrated how far interpretation has developed (for the better) since the days of Britten and Pears. As I remarked – with the pair having famously walked out of a Birtwhistle opera they had presumably commissioned – I don’t know what Britten would have made of it but Hardy would have loved it. We had reservations about Britten’s first string quartet: three dull movements relieved by the finale; the piano sonata by Tippett was outstanding – positively or not according to taste – and his settings of Alun Lewis and Sidney Keyes made for some problems in following their words. Britten’s Six Holderlin fragments were very good.
What more can you ask? We got it: a clear sky and the moon above a pine tree to keep us happy while waiting to start the car and crawl to the exit.