City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Scottish Chamber Orchestra: Britten 100:1, Queen's Hall, Review

By Barbara Bryan - Posted on 19 April 2013

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Queen's Hall
Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Richard Egarr (conductor)
Sarah Oates (guest leader), Peter Franks (trumpet), members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Running time: 

The Queen’s Hall concert was devoted to Benjamin Britten to commemorate the 100th anniversary of his birth.

One of the most distinguished composers of the 20th century, Britten was heavily influenced by the seventeenth century Baroque composer Henry Purcell, and conductor Richard Egarr chose to feature work from both composers in this packed programme.

Juxtaposing Purcell with Britten, Egarr chose to start the concert with his ‘favourite bits’ from Purcell’s ‘Suite from King Arthur.’ The balance of the musicians was excellent, with the strings resonating perfectly around the hall. And in one of the extracts, with Egarr on the organ and Sarah Oates, the guest leader, and Peter Franks on trumpet, they performed a perfect duet.

The platform was rearranged for Britten’s Prelude and Fugue for Strings. The string players stood throughout and Sarah Oates played the solo hauntingly and with great feeling. A complex contrapuntal piece, it was flamboyantly conducted by Egarr.

A personable conductor, Egarr explained the history behind his musical arrangement of seventeenth century ‘catches.’ These were four part harmony rounds written by prominent musicians of the period, which – he assured the audience – had lewd lyrics. We, however, were only privy to a selection of the words recounted by Egarr. A playful interpretation, it was a delight to listen to.

Britten’s Opera Gloriana was first performed as part of Queen Elizabeth II coronation celebrations. Based on the relationship between Queen Elizabeth and the Earl of Essex, the Queen was reportedly unhappy with the interpretation and it was one of Britten’s few pieces to receive adverse criticism.

For this programme, Egarr chose ‘Courtly Dances from Gloriana’ which features the full complement of musicians with additional horns and tuba. Peter Franks played a marvellous trumpet solo at the beginning and in the final ‘catch’, Egarr devoted the interpretation to Purcell and Britten by featuring their favourite musical instrument, the viola.

One can readily see Purcell’s influence in Britten’s ‘A Hymn to the Virgin.’ This exquisite sacred piece of a cappella music for four parts was sung beautifully by the SCO chorus.

Arvo Part, the Estonian composer, wrote ‘Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten’ in l977 to mourn the death of the composer the previous year. Written for string orchestra and bell the work begins with ponderous single bell chimes and is a simple, moving piece based on a descending A minor scale – a melancholy, mournful reminder of his loss.

Purcell was a royal composer and the programme concluded with his suitably grand anthem ‘My Heart is Inditing’ – composed for the coronation of James II in l685. It is the quintessence of English baroque music. The nuances in the choir were excellent and it was a wonderful, uplifting ending to this well thought out programme.

18 April at 7.30pm, Queen's Hall; Friday 19 April, City Halls, Glasgow at 7.30pm.