DESKTOP
TABLET (max. 1024px)
MOBILE (max. 640px)
Return to Top
Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

LEBRECHT LISTENS | Benjamin Britten For The Edge Of Your Seat

By Norman Lebrecht on October 23, 2020

LEBRECHT_LISTENS_-Britten-Sinfonia_-feature_image

Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem (DG)

★★★★☆

🎧  Deutsche GrammophonApple Music | Spotify

Like Beethoven’s Mass in C major which is overshadowed by the mighty Missa Solemnis, Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem is sometimes mistaken for the War Requiem although the two works have nothing in common. The Sinfonia, a work for orchestra alone, last just 20 minutes and is riddled with personal ambivalence.

Britten was commissioned to write it in 1939, having recently settled in New York and been exposed to its cosmopolitan lifestyle, so much more colourful than London’s greys. The commission came from the Japanese Government, to mark the 2,600th anniversary of its ruling dynasty. Japan had brutally invaded China. Britten was a pacifist. He told a newspaper reporter, “I’m making it as anti-war as possible.” But he took the fee. The following year he was summoned to the Japanese consulate to be accused of insulting the nation (they did not ask for the money back).

The work was premiered at Carnegie Hall on Mach 29, 1941 by the New York Philharmonic and its chief conductor John Barbirolli. Its next performance, in Boston, was more important. The conductor Serge Koussevitsky liked it so much that he commissioned Britten to write his first major opera, Peter Grimes. Amid Japan’s entry into the Second World War and his new preoccupation with opera, the Sinfonia da Requiem got sidelined. To this day, it seldom commands centre-stage as a formative work by a brilliant composer in his 20s.

Cast in two sombre outer movements and an agitated centre, all with Roman Catholic titles, the Sinfonia covers a gamut of moods, from pity to passion. Mahler is an unmissable influence, notably the ninth symphony, while the brass and percussion eruptions belong to Igor Stravinsky, and the atmosphere to wartime fragility and the composer’s moral unease. Britten was living in US comfort while his homeland was being blitzed by the Germans.

These conflicts are powerfully projected in a hypertense new recording by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and its Lithuanian music director Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla. Unlike many respectful English performances I have heard, this one reflects life at the edge, its continuance uncertain, its faith flickering to extinction. You are unsure from one bar to the next which way the world will go. It is the least English interpretation I have ever encountered, and all the better for that. Mirga stretches rubato to the point of transparency and admits hints of atonality. Does she sense the composer’s mixed feelings? It’s a completely absorbing narrative, available on instant download from DG.

To read more from Norman Lebrecht, follow him on Slippedisc.com.

#LUDWIGVAN

Get the daily arts news straight to your inbox.

Sign up for the Ludwig van Daily — classical music and opera in five minutes or less HERE.

Norman Lebrecht

Norman Lebrecht is one of the most widely-read commentators on music, culture and cultural politics. He is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Standpoint, Sinfini and other publications. His blog, Slipped Disc, is among the most widely read cultural sites online, breaking exclusive stories and campaigning against human abuse and acts of injustice in the cultural industries.

Norman Lebrecht

Norman Lebrecht is one of the most widely-read commentators on music, culture and cultural politics. He is a regular presenter on BBC Radio 3 and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Standpoint, Sinfini and other publications. His blog, Slipped Disc, is among the most widely read cultural sites online, breaking exclusive stories and campaigning against human abuse and acts of injustice in the cultural industries.
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300
comments powered by Disqus

Ludwig Van Toronto

FEATURE | Classical Music For A Spooky Mood

By Anya Wassenberg on October 29, 2020

We’ve looked at the obvious and the more obscure, pieces both centuries old and new, to come up with a list of musical suggestions for getting into the spooky spirit of Halloween.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_high_590x300

THE SCOOP | Toronto Dance Company To Shut Down Permanently Due To COVID-19

By Michael Vincent on November 13, 2020

Dancemakers, one of Canada’s oldest dance companies, has announced they will end all artistic and operations activity, effective July 31, 2021.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article

CRITIC'S PICKS | Classical And Opera Streams You Absolutely Need To See This Week

By Joseph So on November 23, 2020

Classical music and opera events streaming on the web for the week of November 23 – 29.
Read the full story Comments
Share this article
lv_toronto_banner_low_590x300
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700
lv_toronto_ssb_atf_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_high_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_mid_300x300
lv_toronto_ssb_low_300x300
lv_toronto_tsb_high_300x700
lv_toronto_tsb_low_300x700

We have detected that you are using an adblocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we earn by the advertisements is used to manage this website. Please whitelist our website in your adblocking plugin.