Britten Song Cycles, Blythburgh Church, Aldeburgh Festival
Monday 22 June 2009
The list of alumni who have benefited from an involvement with the many Britten-Pears programmes for developing artists include such names as Ian Bostridge, Simon Keenlyside, Thomas Adès and Dame Felicity Lott.
At this year's Aldeburgh Festival, several less starry alumni – recent participants in a special residency – are performing all the Britten song cycles and other vocal collections in three concerts.
The first programme, given in Blythburgh church, was a showcase for five highly promising young singers. They not only revealed engaging musical personalities but gave wonderfully characterised and detailed accounts of songs across a range of Britten's styles.
The tenor Benjamin Hulett had the tricky task of making a case for The Red Cockatoo and Other Songs, a miscellany composed by Britten over a period of 25 years from 1935 and published posthumously. Hulett interpreted their often homely sentiments thoughtfully and with conviction.
Another lyrical tenor Allan Clayton made a powerfully passionate case for the enigmatic Seven Sonnets of Michelangelo, his rhapsodic style cohering into something remarkably persuasive.
Opening the concert with Britten's first Canticle, "My Beloved is Mine", Andrew Tortise allowed the beauty of the music to unfurl lyrically, in a refreshingly natural and unforced way.
Undaunted by a bad cold, Jennifer Johnston brought dark-hued colour to the nocturnal theme of A Charm of Lullabies, penetrating the dark side of the night in Thomas Randolph's chilling poem, "The Charm".
In the Cabaret Songs, to texts by Auden, Caryl Hughes captured the helter-skelter pace of "Calypso" and sombre bitterness of "Funeral Blues", topping them with a doe-eyed delivery of "Tell Me the Truth About Love".
These singers were privileged indeed. Not only did they benefit from generous rehearsal time on the Suffolk coast, but they were working in partnership with one of today's most sympathetic and experienced accompanists, Malcolm Martineau. He conjured an atmosphere calculated to suit each vocalist as well as the mood of each piece, his piano textures at times suggesting an entire orchestra.
Broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 23 June, 1pm. Aldeburgh Festival continues to 28 June (www.aldeburgh.co.uk)
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