Wispelwey (cello), Ainsley (tenor)

A deep and diverse cross-section of Benjamin Britten’s output

Pieter Wispelwey: captures Britten’s seeming paradox of making something intimate of the political

Pieter Wispelwey: captures Britten’s seeming paradox of making something intimate of the political


Wispelwey (cello), Ainsley (tenor), RTÉ Cór na nÓg,
RTÉ Philharmonic, RTÉ NSO
NCH, Dublin

Britten – Soirées Musicales; Symphony for cello and orchestra; Saint Nicolas

If you were in your seat when this concert began and stayed right through to the extra “late-night” offering that began some time after 10.30pm, you will have experienced a deep and diverse cross-section of Benjamin Britten’s output in a programme devoted entirely to him.

The opening Soirées Musicales Op 9 is early, proto-Britten, a 1936 suite of Rossini adaptations that were among much that he produced on demand while composing background music for the fledgling film unit of the British General Post Office. The unit is still best known for Night Mail, with Britten’s music (and the text by WH Auden, and footage of old trains) assuring it of life outside the archives.

In contrast with the sunny, carefree outlook of these atmospheric pieces – Soirées Musicales was for a film about the Alps – the darkness of the Op 68 Symphony for Cello and Orchestra reflects a forbidding aspect of the age in much the same way the “Molto adagio” of Bartók’s Divertimento had in 1939.

For the mature Britten, the global realities of the Cold War had been personalised via the barriers separating him from his great friend and admirer Mstislav Rostropovich. In the cello concerto he wrote for him, Britten succeeded in making something intimate out of the political.

Soloist Pieter Wispelwey captures that seeming paradox, although that said, such paradoxes were hardly surprising given the events of the day, above all, the Cuban missile crisis. Wispelwey animates the even greater personal intensity of the connection between the two musicians in his post-concert performance of the late (1971) Cello Suite No 3, Op 87.

The concert proper ends with the vitality and optimism of Britten’s cantata Saint Nicolas, featuring a fine level of engagement from the RTÉ Philharmonic Chorus with additional colour from the well-prepared RTÉ children’s choir Cór na nÓg, and a masterful turn in the title role from tenor John Mark Ainsley. Conductor Matthew Halls maintains a discerning energy and movement throughout the concert, and always provides balance, whether with solo cello, tenor, or children’s voices.

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