Thursday, June 06, 2013

Curious Flights: A Britten Celebration

Tuesday night Curious Flights commemorated the 100th birthday of Benjamin Britten with a pleasing program of his lesser-known works. Britten wrote the Movement for Wind Sextet when he was only 16. The piece is pretty, & its inclusion of the bass clarinet imparts a primeval feeling. The Valinor Winds gave it a smooth & clean performance. The Friction Quartet, plus guest violist Jason Pyszkowski, gave a lush performance of the Phantasy in F Minor for String Quintet, written just a few years later. Cellist Doug Machiz bowed & plucked its reiterated theme with anchored & rounded gestures. Violist Pei-Ling Lin has a supple sound, & violinists Kevin Rogers & Otis Harriel communicate urgency. I liked how the players conscientiously handed off the music's lyrical phrases to each other. The piece ended with an extended silence, & the audience was almost reluctant to start applauding.

Tenor Brian Thorsett was arresting in the Canticle III. His high, ringing voice filled the hall & sounded fervent & eerie. There was a startling moment when he suddenly switched from singing to speech. Kevin Rivard, of the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, played the horn part with calmness & used a different timbre for each of his solos.

Curious Flights photo IMG_20130604_205954_zps45b06d06.jpgDuring intermission the stage was reset for an orchestra of about 50, that included 4 basses, 4 horns, & a harp. The program concluded with Movements for a Clarinet Concerto, featuring clarinetist Brenden Guy. It's a jaunty 3 movement concerto constructed by Collin Matthews from Britten's sketch for an unfinished concerto for Benny Goodman plus unrealized contemporaneous material. Though the music is exuberant & virtuosic, Mr. Guy was a low-profile soloist, his playing skillful & sunny but a bit reined in. He used music, & there was no traditional cadenza. Instead, he shared the spotlight with the orchestra, which sounded taut & brilliant under conductor Alasdair Neale. It was fun hearing the bass clarinet at the end of the 1st movement.

The audience at the SF Conservatory was sparse but appreciative, & I felt like I was at an event with many friends. Karen Ames introduced the concert & acknowledged Mr. Guy's father, who was here from the UK.

§ Curious Flights: A Britten Celebration
All Works By Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

Movement for Wind Sextet (1930)
    Valinor Winds
    Sasha Launer, flute
    Jessie Huntsman, oboe
    Brenden Guy, clarinet
    Jeannie Psomas, bass clarinet
    Alexis Luque, bassoon
    Caitlyn Smith, horn

Phantasy in F Minor for String Quintet (1932)
    Friction Quartet
    Kevin Rogers & Otis Harriel, violin
    Pei-Ling Lin, viola
    Doug Machiz, cello
    Jason Pyszkowski, viola

Canticle III: Still Falls the Rain, Op. 55 (1954)
    Brian Thorsett, tenor
    Kevin Rivard, horn
    Ulysses Loken, piano

Movements for a Clarinet Concerto (1941-42)
Devised & Orchestrated by Collin Matthews (2007)
    Curious Flights Symphony Orchestra
    Alasdair Neale, conductor
    Brenden Guy, clarinet

June 4, 2013 | 8:00 P.M.
San Francisco Conservatory Concert Hall


Civic Center said...

Lovely account. The Canticle III was my favorite, with both Kevin Rivard on horn and Bryan Thorsett singing at a seriously high level.

Axel Feldheim said...

Mr. Thorsett was amazing. His soft singing near the end was supernatural. I also liked hearing the Friction Quartet for the 1st time.