Friday, 20 August 2010

Pärt, Britten, Shostakovich and Huw Watkins

Benjamin Britten, Resistance Leader?  Britten brought Shostakovich and his music to the West, thereby giving Shostakovich, Rostropovich and Vishnevskaya a mantle of moral protection against the Soviet regime. No wonder that Arvo Pärt, an Estonian, looked up to Britten as a symbol of what musicians can do to undermine regimes. Pärt, Britten and Shostakovich together, with Edward Gardner, conducting the BBC Symphony Orchestra, couldn't fail to work, so Prom 42 was an enjoyable experience, important enough to be rebroadcast on BBC TV (available on download for a week, audio only internationally)

The tolling bell and wash of strings in Britten's Sea Interludes resurrect in Pärt's Cantus in memoriam Benjamin Britten. Shostakovich's Fifth Symphony under Gardner was energetic, though not extreme. So where dioes Huw Watkins fit in? Perhaps because his new Violin Concerto contrasts chaos and serenity. Shostakovich contradicts conventional wisdom with a contradictory ending. Watkins's resolution is elusively tamtalizing. Shostakovich starts with high pitched string legato, like Britten would do later, Watkins returns to long lines after a raucous start.  Alina Ibragimova gives Watkins's Violin Concerto credibilty, she's firm and assertive. I'll be writing more about Pärt later, but here's David Fanning on Prom 42.

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