The Many Threads of Britten Are Brought to a Satisfying Conclusion; Festival of Britten BBC Philharmonic/ BBC Concert Orchestra/ BBC Symphony Orchestra Symphony Hall Benjamin Britten

The Birmingham Post (England), November 12, 2001 | Go to article overview

The Many Threads of Britten Are Brought to a Satisfying Conclusion; Festival of Britten BBC Philharmonic/ BBC Concert Orchestra/ BBC Symphony Orchestra Symphony Hall Benjamin Britten


Byline: Christopher Morley

Possibly the most significant outcome of the BBC's Festival of Britten showcase has been the sense of context these five consecutive evenings, all broadcast live, have created.

Early programmes set Britten firmly in an English environment, mainly pastoral and nautical, before revealing him also as someone with strong affinities with the composers of Freudian Vienna. Friday night placed him among the Soviets, sharing in the struggle for integrity which lacerated individuals bullied by the state.

One of several works dedicated to the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, Britten's piquant Cello Symphony, febrile in scoring and texture, is a work conceived through gritted teeth. In preserving the delicate balance between soloist and orchestra it explores extremes of register, dark bass colourings reminding us of Ravel's Left-hand Piano Concerto. Bach lies behind its huge stretches of multiple-stopping, and how brilliantly soloist Alban Gerhardt fulfilled these cruel demands, tone and intonation never suffering in the quest for technical perfection.

The implications of Britten's deliberate use of the word 'Symphony' drew a collaboration of intense sympathy from the remarkable BBC Philharmonic under principal conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier, before they embarked upon the huge emotional journey which is Shostakovich's Tenth Symphony.

Against Tortelier's fluent, forward pulse all the tensions and quirky magic of the composer's inspiration were allowed to tell (basslines off-the-beat sounding surprisingly Brittenesque), and the eventual liberation of Shostakovich's personal DCSH sound-logo was kept on a patient rein. The accumulation of power was palpable.

It was shrewd programming to include Shostakovich's Festival Overture, such a vapid, tawdry piece of proletariat fodder, and such a brilliant example of the beleaguered composer taking the mickey out of the commissars!

Light music of a less complex provenance came with Saturday's vibrant concert from the awesomely versatile BBC Concert Orchestra under Barry Wordsworth.

This acknowledged Britten's period in America during the early years of the Second World War, mixing and matching exuberant accounts of Bernstein's Candide Overture and Four Dance Episodes from Copland's Rodeo with equally enthusiastic accounts of Britten's less-than-memorable Matinees Musicales. …

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