Purcell – Abdelazer, Z570: ‘Rondeau’Purcell-Muhly – Let the night perish (Job’s Curse), Z191
Purcell-Stokowski – Dido’s Lament
Tippett – A Lament from Divertimento on ‘Sellinger’s Round’
Handel – Alcina: arias
Britten – Prelude and Fugue for eighteen-part string orchestra, op.29
Purcell-Britten – Chacony in G minor
Tippett – Little Music for Strings
Britten – Phaedra, op.93
Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano)
Jacqueline Shave (director/violin)
Richard Hetherington (conductor).
I was a little puzzled to start with when I noticed that this concert was announced as celebrating Britten’s ninety-ninth birthday. Any excuse for a party, I supposed, but it might not have made sense to wait a year? Then I read a little further, to discover that it was launching a year’s events at the Wigmore Hall, to culminate in the centenary itself – also St Cecilia’s Day, by the way. As something less than a paid-up Brittenophile – some works I respond to far more readily than others: The Turn of the Screw I find a masterpiece, whereas Peter Grimes I obstinately continue to find grossly overrated – I suspect that I shall be more selective than some. Next year, after all, is Wagner’s, for better or worse, though in many respects I fear the worst. However, if any of the Britten performances I hear next year are at this level of distinction, I shall be fortunate indeed. (The Turn of the Screw from Sir Colin Davis and the LSO looks a good bet already...)
This programme played into an aspect of Britten’s career for which I have almost unbounded admiration, namely Britten as performer. Though I certainly do not share his antipathies – Brahms most notoriously, Beethoven too – I cannot help but admire so ardent a Purcellian, especially when his conducted performances of Purcell were, without exception in my experience, outstanding. The Rondeau from Abdelazar, famously chosen by Britten as the theme for the Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, set the tone impeccably. Spirited, robust even, without a hint of carping, inhumane ‘authenticity’, this performance from the Britten Sinfonia, led by Jacqueline Shave, managed also to convey a hint of melancholy that stands at the heart of so much great English music from Byrd to Birtwistle.