Review: WNO Orchestra - Britten’s Sinfonia Da Requiem @ SDH
WNO's Tudor season is at an end with a concert of 20th Century compositions. This music would tie in a Tudor composer, the centenary of Benjamin Britten, his good friendship with Shostakovich and the former's Tudor take on Elizabethan opera.
We began with what is arguably considered the most beautiful pieces of music by a British composer. Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia On A Theme By Thomas Tallis. Using the music of the Tudor composer Tallis, VW has created an airy and stately work that is highly regarded on Classic FM's Hall of Fame. Written just for strings orchestra, the players lapped out around the stage and evoked ancient moods and pastoral bliss.
Britten’s Sinfonia Da Requiem was the best part of the evening (my guest agreed). Rejected by its Japanese commissioners for being too ‘western’ and having a Christian theme, it brings to the fore the confrontation of war and Britten’s great distain for fighting. Its colours and sweeping flare are its stand out qualities. Anyone unsure of Britten’s originality as a composer should listen to this, then be hushed by those sort of remarks. How sweet the flutes sounds after the powerhouse middle movement, the Dies Irae.
More Britten followed after the interval, with his Courtly Dances. Taken from his opera Gloriana, this was written to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The opera details the life of the first Queen Elizabeth and at the time was panned by critics, yet loved by the public. The dances feel very authentic and bring up the vibes of a court from the era very well. You almost have the temptation to bop along and do some little jigs to the music.
Shostakovich’s 9th Symphony is a world away from his previous work in that field. Since Beethoven, the idea of the ninth symphony has been to create a grand and epic work, perhaps becoming the best and most important of a composer’s output. So the Russian state expected something of this sort. What Shostakovich presented them with was a cheeky and frothy symphony that can be considered his weakest out of the fifteen he composed. His defiant nature usually got him into hot water with the authorities but that was usually because his music was too daring and modernist (basically the complete opposite of his Ninth). It has some contagious melodies and funny little moments. The bassoon solo is also a highpoint.
So we bid farewell to the Tudors and now WNO next year embarks on a most familiar and fascinating of operatic themes in three operas and a concert - The Fallen Women.
We await the fall in the new yearâ€¦
The orchestra of WNO's next concert is on Friday 17th January 2014 at Saint David’s Hall. The Fallen Women concert features Berg’s Lyric Suite, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder (with soloist Sarah Connolly) and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.