2013 marks a few important bicentennials. Of course the two one refers to are Richard Wagner and Giuseppe Verdi. However, 2013 is also the year we celebrate another important “tennial.” It is the centennial of British composer Benjamin Britten, and last night Carnegie Hall began its series of concerts devoted to celebrating his life and works.
Zankel Hall welcomed three superb artists to sing Britten’s music. Tenor Ian Bostridge; who returns to Carnegie Hall on Wednesday, Oct 23, for another Britten program, Countertenor Iestyn Davies; who is currently staring in Britten’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at the Met, and Baritone Joshua Hopkins. These gentlemen of song joined voices for a lovely evening accompanied on the piano by Julius Drake, on the french horn by Leelanee Sterrett, and on the harp by Bridget Kibbey.
The program began with songs by Henry Purcell which had been arranged by Benjamin Britten. Mr. Bostridge started the first act with “If music be the food of love” in which he conveyed great stage presence, yet his diction was a bit muddled throughout. His most dramatic work came in the fiery “The Queen’s Epicedium.” This was a perfect combination of voice and piano to create real drama, which turned out to foreshadow the second portion of the evening. Mr. Davies possessed a delicate balance of smokey-smooth softness and a rich tambour that he used to ebb the phrases in “Sweeter than roses,” and his final “Music for a while.” One would be hard pressed to find a talent equal to his in versatility and tonal quality. Of course, that may also be due to the fact of the rarity of his voice type. Though the gap, I am happy to report, is closing in as this music becomes more and more prevalent in recitals these days. Mr. Hopkins sang with wonderful expression of the text, moving authentically to the emotions. The pinicle of which came in his second piece, “Not all my torments can your pity move.” He sang with a quality akin to Thomas Stewart, and with a voice that rattled the floorboards like the passing subways underfoot.
The aforementioned drama came to a peak during the second half of the evening which included all of Britten’s Canticle’s. In Canticle I: My Beloved is Mine, Op. 40, Mr. Bostridge astounded with an absolutely gorgeous ending phrase of, “thus he is mine.” This piece was written almost as a coming out of sorts for Britten and his lover Peter Pears. The text overtly alludes to two men expressing love for one another, but he hides the meaning in a biblical setting.
In Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac, Op. 51, Mr. Davies played Isaac to Mr. Bostridge’s Abraham. The story comes from the Old Testament of sacrifice and innocence. The piece opened with the two singers facing the piano in unison as the voice of God. If God in fact does have a voice, one should hope he sounds like these two voice combined. Swirling around each other and occasionally meeting on the same pitch, this effect was brilliant at best. The program notes denoted staging, however, these interpreters needed none.
The three joined again during Canticle IV: The Journey of the Magi, Op. 86, in which they formed a sort of call-and-response story telling of the journey of the three wise men.
The entire piece was so musically unsettling that one did not know when to applaud once it was over. The music and lyric just sits there without any sense of finality, but after the mood broke there was ovations for all. Rightly and well deserved for Mr. Drake’s fantastically virtuosic piano playing.
With representations like this, there is little wonder Britten’s music lives on. He still speaks to every human emotion in every human being in the way that all the classic greats do, and will for eons to come.
For more information about Carnegie Hall, click here.
For more information about Mr. Bostridge, click here.
For more information about Mr. Davies, click here.
For more information about Mr. Hopkins, click here.
For more information about Mr. Drake, click here.