Jhe Bath Festival Orchestra was established by Yehudi Menuhin in 1959, when he began his 10-festival tenure as director. It has now been revived under the direction of Peter Manning and aims to invoke the status and reputation of the original band while providing a platform for emerging talent. However, it would seem from this exhibition at this year bath partyeven taking into account the pandemic issues and the delays, that the orchestra still has a long way to go before it can respond to some of the outlandish claims made about it.
There was already something slightly surreal about an evening of sea-inspired string music taking place in the city’s ancient Roman baths, even though the cry of seagulls, spinning and spinning above the head, contributed to vanity. And, although all four pieces have titles specifying their maritime connection, the combination of established works with new ones did not come together as a neat flotilla.
The program opener was Takemitsu’s Toward the Sea in 1981, commissioned by Greenpeace for its Save the Whales campaign and referencing Herman Melville’s Moby Dick – its awareness-raising focus is arguably even more needed today. Takemitsu’s inclusion of the sultry alto flute (Frederico Paixão) and harp (Alis Huws) with the texture of the strings gives the piece its distinctly French aura but, the playing of the strings – 16 in number – lacked character. to invest the music with the meditative element that is part of its fundamental quality.
american composer Daniel Temkin‘s Ocean’s Call, created in 2015, is inspired by the vastness of the Pacific and California’s Big Sur. As a percussionist, one might have expected Temkin to be preoccupied with rhythmic sensibilities, but these were not apparent and, given the overwhelming feeling that had inspired the piece, it was underwhelming and tasteless.
Visions at Sea (2011) by Dutch composer Joey Roukens was, like the Temkin, first conceived for string quartet. Ostensibly conveying a sense of the Netherlands’ relationship with the sea over time, it has weaved quotes from the past into the fabric, as well as pieces of traditional bagpipes and sea shanties. Yet, with its mix of tonal and atonal elements, it never quite achieved an organic whole.
Between these two relatively recent works were interposed Grace Williamsfrom 1944, the work Sea Sketches. Evoking the most robust string playing of the evening, there were also expressive moments that hinted at the ultimate viability of the whole thing but, overall, it was an underwhelming occasion.