Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 5, 2013

Vivaldi and Britten

Berkshire Choral Festival, Sheffield MA
July 27, 2013
by Barbara Stroup

The unlikely pairing of works by Vivaldi and Britten provided excellent large-scale choral music for a perfect mid-summer evening in the Berkshires. Conductor Nicholas Cleobury, from the United Kingdom, led over 100 choristers plus orchestra and soloists in Antonio Vivaldi’s Gloria and in Benjamin Britten’s Spring Symphony.

The chorus seemed most comfortable with the familiar Gloria. Orchestra and chorus were well balanced, and the strings kept vibrato to a minimum. In the cavernous Jackman Center, the organ continuo enhanced the orchestra sound (but the player, unfortunately, went unnamed in the program). There were several lush and expressive passages of cello and organ. Under Cleobury’s direction, both orchestra and chorus produced an admirably wide range of dynamics.

Less familiar to all, Spring Symphony of Benjamin Britten was a treat of 20th century sound and revealed the composer’s reverence for text as a source of theme and meaning. Britten used poetry -- medieval to modern -- to write interweaving lines for soloists, chorus, and orchestra sections. His chosen texts conjured a palpable longing for spring to emerge. Put together with a complex texture of sound, the work reminded the listener of that late winter impatience for the sun and flowers to appear.

Spring Symphony required an array of ‘extras’ -- a cowbell, a children’s chorus, and several measures of bird sounds from the soloist, all of which brought smiles. The stark reminder of nearby war was contrasted with the relative calm of England’s hills in “Out on the Lawn I Lie in Bed” which featured mezzo soprano, Ann McMahon Quintero. There was nothing ‘middling’ about her voice; the dark richness was enthralling.

This work, although operatic in its reliance on the solo work of three singers, kept the chorus busy and interwove all. The brass were especially authoritarian and solid. Complex to say the least, kudos to the choristers for learning the piece so well in one week's time, and to the Berkshire Choral Festival for presenting it.