Philemon und Baucis – Overture
Hamlet – Act IV Entr’acte
Serenade for Strings, Op.48
Allan Clayton (tenor)
Members of the BBC Philharmonic
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 2 September, 2020
Venue: BBC Philharmonic Studio, MediaCityUK, Salford
Omer Meir Wellber should have presided over this live Prom but illness meant that he ceded the podium to John Storgårds: it was one titled BBC Philharmonic conductor for another. A change of programme ensued: out went the premiere of Aziza Sadikova’s Marionettes, and a Haydn Symphony, No.80, also bit the dust, whereas his two-movement Sinfonia to Philemon und Baucis, survived. It’s an arresting introduction to what was 250 years ago an Ovid-inspired Singspiel with puppetry, Sturm und Drang-leaning initially, a tempest then countered by something elegantly expressive.
Tchaikovsky was added to the bill of fare: a snippet from his incidental music for Hamlet (a score, albeit recycled in part, that’s separate from his Hamlet Fantasy-Overture, Opus 67), this particular chosen Entr’acte proving rather lovely if poignant, heavy of heart; followed by the evergreen Serenade for Strings, which, if a bit short of personnel (this was no doubt a socially-distanced ensemble) and a little uncertain at times, made for agreeable listening (it’s one of those pieces), the central movements coming of best, a lilting ‘Valse’ of candyfloss lightness, then a deeply-felt ‘Élégie’ spaciously rendered.
Benjamin Britten’s Nocturne (1958, not to be confused with his Nocturnal written for Julian Bream’s guitar a few years later) was this no-audience, no-interval concert’s centrepiece. It’s a string-based song-cycle with wind instruments, not forgetting harp and timpani, added along the way to personalise Britten’s poets, including Shelley, Tennyson, Wordsworth, Keats and Shakespeare.
Night, sleep and dream in various manifestations dominate the continuous sequence – eerie and hallucinatory, as well as expressive in a haunted/enchanted way – for which the seven obbligato players (they come together for the final section, a Shakespeare Sonnet) were distinguished, each as ‘vocal’ and as descriptive as the texts, while Allan Clayton, without disguising that the original tenor was Peter Pears, was also his own man – in timbre, phrasing, characterisation and word-painting, a calibrated intensity across the whole making for compelling listening. Throughout the evening, the orchestra and conductor displayed a fruitful bond, and I imagine the excellent Radio 3 sound can be credited to Stephen Rinker.