Concert devoted to English composers

TONY COOPER The Britten Sinfonia, under the direction of Nicholas Daniel, appears in a concert tonight, Friday April 15, at St Andrew's Hall, Norwich, devoted to three great (and different) English composers.


The Britten Sinfonia, under the direction of Nicholas Daniel, appears in a concert tonight, Friday April 15, at St Andrew's Hall, Norwich, devoted to three great (and different) English composers.

Two works by Ralph Vaughan Williams – who conducted in the hall on many occasions when visiting the Norfolk and Norwich Triennial Festival in the 1930s and 40s – will be heard as well as works by Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett.

The concert opens with one of the Vaughan Williams pieces – Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus – and continues with Britten's Serenade for Tenor, Strings and Horn, one of his most creative and aspiring works written in 1943.

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The idea for it arose when Britten met horn player Dennis Brain during the summer of 1942. At his request for a new work, Britten selected six poems by British authors to form the serenade's cyclical text. The poems span the centuries, presenting an overview of the development of English poetry, their common themes being that of evening and, both literally and by analogy, death.

The soloist on this occasion is John Mark Ainsley, a singer who has appeared with most of the world's leading orchestras. They include the London Symphony under Sir Colin Davis, Rostropovich and Previn, the London Philharmonic under Norrington, the Cleveland Orchestra under Welser-Moest, the Berlin Philharmonic under Haitink and Rattle, the New York Philharmonic under Masur, the Boston Symphony under Ozawa and the San Francisco Symphony under Tate and Norrington.

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Few composers can be characterised as succinctly as Vaughan Williams, whose name has become synonymous with Englishness. A key figure in the 20th century revival of English music, his research into the musical heritage of his homeland not only brought him individual recognition as a composer of renown, but also put English music back on the international map.

Yet this appropriation of antiquated folksong has often been misunderstood, regarded as a lazy compositional technique that resulted in nothing more than bland pastoralism.

In fact, his intentions were quite the opposite: he spent most of his lifetime researching not only native hymns and folksong but also literature by his compatriots, searching for a unique direction and seeking to free English music from foreign domination.

More specifically, he sought to reject the overpowering Austro-Germanic romantic tradition.

Although his music remained strongly infused with echoes of England, it never became subsumed by it, as traces of Debussy and Dvorák gave colour to his distinctive style. Whether the resulting music is considered bland or not, it has saved a great deal of the nation's music from undeserved neglect.

The Concerto for Oboe and Strings was written in 1944 for the virtuoso oboist Leon Goossens and is based upon a discarded sketch for his fifth symphony. It is a formidable challenge for the soloist who is allowed little opportunity to rest during a work that exploits both the poignant and more playful sides of the instrument.

The soloist on this occasion is Nicholas Daniel. He is a regular conductor of the Britten Sinfonia and has appeared with them on numerous occasions most notably with Beyond the Blue Horizon, a work that had an extensive UK tour as well as being broadcast live by the BBC from the Queen Elizabeth Hall.

The concert ends with a performance of Tippett's Concerto for Double String Orchestra, performed in celebration of his centenary year.

t Tickets for the concert are priced from £25 to £5, concs £2 off, students and under-18s £5. Box office: Norwich Theatre Royal, telephone 01603 630000

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