Saturday, 27 April 2013

Britten in Venice

It's a big year for anniversaries in the classical world, but the celebrations for Benjamin Britten's centenary - in Italy at least - are being rather overshadowed by the bicentenaries of Verdi and Wagner; summed up perhaps by RAI 3's season "Tutto Wagner, Tutto Verdi" which sadly doesn't stretch to a "Tutto Britten". And that's a bit of a shame. Britten loved Venice. Peter Pears refers to him almost having to be dragged away from the city. Curlew River was written here, The Turn of the Screw was commissioned by La Fenice, and, of course, his last work (which might have hastened his death) was an adaptation of Mann's Death in Venice.

Benjamin Britten and friends, resolutely ignoring the "no sitting on bridges" rule.
Still, our maestra admires 20th century English music, so, in our modest way, we're marking BB's anniversary with a performance of his St Nicolas cantata ("St Nicholas just after Easter?", said a friend, "what are you doing for Christmas, a Passion?") at the Frari.

It's fun doing works in English, as I get used as the Authority on Pronunciation. This isn't always so easy. I've still got a bit of a Welsh accent which isn't what Britten would have written for. In the end, if there's any doubt, I find "What would Ian Bostridge do?" to be a useful rule of thumb.

The Frari's a challenging space for concerts. The sheer size of the space means there's always a risk that individual words will just get swallowed up. On the plus side, there's no denying that the acoustic generates a big, big sound; and the effect of having two separate ranks of female voices hidden away up in the organ galleries works well.

Cantori Veneziani, in front of Titian's The Assumption
As to the concert itself : there's a feeling afterwards that this one really was a bit special. I have a bit of a claque this time around (well, three people, but these things take time....) : our Australian friends Peter and Lou are very complimentary and treat me to a spritz; while Caroline, not usually a great fan of Britten, goes as far as to describe it as "brilliant". I'll settle for "quite good", but that's for you to decide. The whole concert can be accessed by the links below.


The Birth of Nicolas

Nicolas devotes himself to God

He journeys to Palestine

Nicolas comes to Myra and is chosen Bishop

Nicolas from prison

Nicolas and the Pickled Boys

His piety and marvellous works

The Death of Nicolas