- 13 February 2013 - Britten Sinfonia At Lunch
from Brighton and London for this programme of Copland, Shostakovich, Britten
and a new work by Jay Greenberg.
this year’s Britten Sinfonia ‘at lunch’ series is themed around the music of the
composer after whom the ensemble takes its name and inventive programming to put
his music in context.
Britten and Aaron Copland enjoyed a firm friendship that was cemented in America
in the late 1930s. A decade before that Copland was writing experimentally under
the encouragement of Nadia Boulanger, and his piano trio Vitebsk falls into that
category, so called because it is based on a Jewish folksong. The theme is highly
expressive, the composer working it through intriguing combinations of key and
mood, including the occasional use of quartertones. This requires rock-solid intonation
on the part of the two string-players. Thomas Gould and Caroline Dearnley achieved
both this and rhythmic vitality, the jagged dotted-note motifs impeccably delivered.
Alasdair Beatson made a forceful contribution.
and Britten became good friends in the 1960s. Britten particularly admired Lady
Macbeth of the Mtsensk District. The ‘Elegy’ of the Two Pieces was a prototype
for one of the opera’s main ideas. Thomas Gould gave a tender rendition before
the string quartet explored the sardonic humour of the ‘Polka’, shared with The
Age of Gold. Britten himself was next, with a piece by the 17-year-old composer
for his first instrument, the viola. Reflection is a quieter aside, a set of thoughts
that move from mysterious to questioning. Clare Finnimore’s full tone was ideal
at the climactic point, and with Alasdair Beatson she caught the music’s wandering
nature. The concert ended with Three Divertimenti, written six years after Reflection
and a considerable step forward stylistically. This was an excellent performance,
capturing the mischievous humour that lies just below the surface of the ‘March’
and ‘Burlesque’, while charming with the wistful Waltz.
Jay Greenberg (born 1991) and his Kandinskiana had no apparent link to the programme.
Scored for piano quintet, it is initially evocative, the string-players using
the wood of their instruments to create lightly percussive effects, part of Greenberg’s
desire to “realise the process of creating a Kandinsky painting”. There was an
explosion of colour in the note-clusters late on, but overall the piece felt like
a series of gestures none allowed to fully express themselves. The performance
was excellent, with musicians conducting where necessary."
Britten Sinfonia are brilliant ambassadors for new music and their unfailingly
engaging, straight-talking style is all part of Benjamin Britten’s legacy of bringing
music to new audiences. What’s more, they are our local band.
concert was all about the enthusiasms of youth, nowhere more so than in Kandinskiana,
a new piece by young American composer Jay Greenberg. Inspired by the paintings
of Kandinsky, this was music full of assured experiment, starting out with a Copland-like
harmonic openness which was quickly seduced into a richly textured world of colour,
dimension and contrast. It was a ten-minute ride in a kaleidoscope.
piece was thoughtfully sandwiched between two works by a young Britten. Reflection
for viola and piano, written at 17, is full of a teenager’s uncertainty and unrealised
emotion while the Three Divertimenti, written six years later, see the exuberance
of childhood through the lens of emotional and compositional maturity.
Sinfonia’s unique freshness of approach was evident in every piece, their precision,
commitment and technical virtuosity in every phrase, every note. There is no other
ensemble that so flawlessly communicates what music can do."
Argus, Eleanor Knight