Emmanuel Streams Britten Fest Part Two

Jonas Budris and Donald Berman  (screen grab)

Emmanuel Music’s Britten Chamber Festival streamed Part Two this evening in a format once again directed by Nathan Troup. Access will continue HERE for two months.

The pre-concert talk by Dr. Imani Danielle Mosley (musicologist, cultural historian, and digital humanist specializing in the works of Benjamin Britten; now Assistant Professor at The University of Florida) occupies the first 14 minutes of this stream. As she discusses, tonight’s concert recreates, in part, the memorial concert for the tenth anniversary of the death of Dick Sheppard (1880 – 1937), onetime Vicar of Saint-Martin-in-the-Fields (London), broadcaster, pacifist, and founder of the Peace Pledge Union. There follows a lengthy pause with scrolling text relating to the history of Emmanuel Music until the concert proper begins at the 33-minute mark.

In Canticle I:  My beloved is mine, op. 40 (1947) Britten’s sets a text by the 17th-century poet Francis Quarles, inspired by the Song of Solomon. Jonas Budris (tenor) and Donald Berman (piano) offered this reading of the canticle originally premiered by tenor Peter Pears with Benjamin Britten at the keyboard. For the smoldering eroticism of this series of poems attributed to King David, Quarles and Britten convey a slightly more reserved passion:

He’s firmly mine by oath; I his by vow,
He’s mine by faith; and I am his by love;
He’s mine by water; I am his by wine, …

Of such verses are passion construed. There is tenderness here and the construction of a calm happiness in the quiescent musical setting. Budris and Berman expressed this character with a memorable depth and fluid grace.

Rhonda Rider and Judith Gordon (screen grab)

Beginning at 42:45 Rhonda Rider (cello) and Judith Gordon (piano) traversed Britten’s Cello Sonata in C (1960). This five-movement work represents the first of the lengthy collaborations between Britten and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich. I remember a quote where Rostropovich said he strove to present all the colors of the orchestra when playing cello, and certainly he is remembered for his bold sound; Rider and Gordon offer a subtler or gentler read which I find it equally if not more compelling. With porcelain refinement, delicacy, and precision the pair offer their own virtues, which we hear this from the opening Dialogo.  There are interspersed moments of spoudogelaion, or serious play — notably in the second movement, Scherzo-Pizzicato. The Elegia third movement has a depth and profundity all the more remarkable for its citations from the opening Dialogo which take on a completely different cast here. The Marcia manages to unite fun and declamation and a touch of pomposity into a musical exploration of satire and sarcasm akin to some of Shostakovich’s music. The concluding Moto perpetuo here became an enticingly, a pastoral manic romp. The resulting reading, more enlightening for its polish, rewarded careful listening with a  disclosure of the depth to this beauty, which we accepted with absolute pleasure.

David Tinervia (baritone) and Brett Hodgdon (piano) rounded out this concert (from 1:03:16) with four of the Folk Songs of the British Isles: “Lemady,” “Bonny at Morn,” “Lord! I Married Me a Wife,” and “O Waly, Waly.” The apparent simplicity of setting both musical lines belies the mastery required to render these songs compellingly. Tinervia and Hodgdon handily dispatched the challenges and turned these folk song settings into miniature operas.

Tonight we heard an easier and more direct relation to messy corporeality, and less of the cerebral voicings or concerns over legacy Britten brought to some his larger-scale or later works (such as those heard last night). We were pleased for this reminder of the more witty, more playful, and perhaps more optimistic Britten.

Cashman Kerr Prince, trained in Classics and Comparative Literature, is now a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Classical Studies at Wellesley College. He is also a cellist of some accomplishment, currently playing with the Brookline Symphony Orchestra