We can easily understand Britten’s composing ‘Our Hunting Fathers’. A pacifist under gathering war-clouds, as well as a passionate animal-lover, he responded gladly to the sardonic anti-Establishment poetry written and selected by W.H. Auden.
But this is the music of an angry young man and it is overblown with too much material; a more mature composer would have filtered some of it out, for pragmatic use elsewhere. The score is cluttered and over-busy, for all its witty commentary.
The CBSO handled all this tumbling zealousness with skill and commitment under the equally committed baton of the enthusiastic Andrew Manze.
Lisa Milne was the engaging soloist, communicatively clear in her feeling for the text, her arresting virtuosity addressing the wide-ranging vocal line with spectacular success, and making light of Britten’s experimental demands upon the voice (he was heavily under the influence of the Second Viennese school during this period).
These hunting fathers would have been very much at home in the pastoral landscapes conjured by Vaughan Williams’ Fifth Symphony, music which veers between hints of something nasty in the woodshed and the utterly transforming visionariness of ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’.
The principals – Laurence Jackson, Bryony Shaw, Chris Yates and Eduardo Vassallo –were outstanding, and Manze, a string-player himself, allowed the massed CBSO strings to reaffirm what a formidable force they have become.