Auckland Arts Festival: Little Britten

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Composer Benjamin Britten. Photo / NZ Herald
Composer Benjamin Britten. Photo / NZ Herald

There were a few bumps leading up to Auckland Arts Festival's first-centenary tribute to Benjamin Britten.

It took some of us ticket-holders five minutes to traverse the few metres to the auditorium door and, once in, we were told that programmes had run out.

But within the first few phrases of Britten's Hymn to the Virgin, irritations were forgotten.

The New Zealand Youth Choir's young singers delivered warm and sonorous praise; conductor David Squire balanced them expertly against Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir, positioned high in a balcony, behind the audience.

Karen Grylls introduced Rejoice in the Lamb with wit and useful pointers for punters without programmes.

Squire guided the Youth Choir through the work's fairly radical shifts of style and, of four strong young soloists, mezzo Dilys Fong relished the humour of her contribution.

James Tibbles offered two organ solos, contrasting the rambling Voluntary on Tallis' Lamentations with the more developed drama of a Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Vittoria.

His registrations for the Fugue were a particular joy, with mighty climaxes and fading away to Britten's requested extreme of pianississimo.

Voices New Zealand Chamber Choir included Britten's Flower Songs in its town hall concert last year. Tonight, even more enjoyment was to be had as they reprised the work. Grylls swept them through the lilting Daffodils and ensured Ballad of Green Broom had the right earthy thrust.

These 16 singers also excelled in the composer's challenging Sacred and Profane, eight medieval lyrics set by Britten towards the end of his life.

Fowl and fish were rendered fresh and frisky in I mon waxe wod while Lenten is come drew us in with its subtle tonal swells. Pepe Becker was cool and pure-voiced over the urging harmonies of Yif ic of luve can.

The concert ended in full celebratory mode with a 1961 Jubilate Deo. When the singers gave out its fervent, generously phrased tune, one could almost imagine Britten, had he lived a generation or two earlier, may well have penned a Jerusalem or I Vow to Thee, My Country.

Review

What: Little Britten.
Where: Holy Trinity Cathedral.

- NZ Herald

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