Christopher Morley reviews Orchestra of the Swan at Civic Hall in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Three world premieres and one of Britten’s masterpieces were rich fodder for the second of the Orchestra of the Swan’s “Music in our Time Festival”, celebrating the centenary of Britten’s birth.
But Stratford, as depressingly almost anywhere else, is still not ready for most music written in the second half of the 20th century, let alone anything from the 21st, and there was plenty of legroom last Friday evening.
Britten’s Nocturne is a wonderfully sensitive sequence of settings of some of our greatest poets, ending with an ear-worming treatment of Shakespeare’s haunting Sonnet 43.
This OOTS performance surprised from the outset, with so many of the regulars replaced by faces unknown to the orchestra’s loyal supporters. Certainly the individual instrumental obligati (as Britten misspells the word) are difficult, but I was disappointed not to hear well-loved players tackling the challenge.
Simon Wall (puzzlingly relegated low down on the list of soloists) was the tenor, his assiduous diction and feel for texts (and occasional mispitching) often overbalanced by David Curtis’ orchestra.
Higher up on the list were was James Nyoraku Schlefer, adept exponent of the dulcet, flute-sounding shakuhachi, various instruments looking recorder-like), and soloist in the neatly-constructed, Tippett-indebted and American prairie-open Concerto by Paul Moravec.
And Schlefer was one of the quartet of soloists -- David le Page (violin), Nick Stringfellow (cello), and most visually spectacularly, Mieko Miyazaki on the evocative koto) -- in his own Concertante, formulaic, seductively filmic, and always expertly marshalled by Curtis.
Simon Wall returned for David Matthews’ Skies Now are Skies. a rewriting for voice and strings of his Seventh String Quartet (I know of at least one great precedent for string quartet plus vocalist -- Schoenberg 2). Again, balance between voice with orchestra was questionable, but this emerged as a tense, urgent performance with a seamless flow. But I end with an awesome question: we will hear the Britten into eternity. How about the others?