Britten Simple Symphony, Op. 4. Les Illuminations, Op. 18. Shostakovich Symphony No. 1 in F minor, Op. 10 LSO/Masur with Ian Bostridge (tenor). RFH, 11 May 2000
There was a mutual respect between Britten and Shostakovich which makes the linking of the two in concert programmes seem a logical and rewarding step. The highlight of the all-Britten first half was undoubtedly Ian Bostridge's account of 'Les Illuminations' (1939). Previous to this concert I had found it hard to warm to this young man, whether on disc or in the concert hall (his much-hyped EMI CD of Schubert songs seems to me grossly overrated). However, his voice seems to fit Britten's music like a glove, and he brings to it an individuality that is entirely his own. Throughout, Bostridge's French diction of Rimbaud's ten texts was exemplary. It was perfectly clear and never once interrupted the melodic contour. His characterisation and declamation were completely fitting. The desolation projected in the final song, 'Depart', was most touching. Very occasionally the vocal range went slightly too low for his voice and strain was evident, but this is a small point in comparison with the total effect created.
The thoroughly musical qualities that Masur brought to the string accompaniments in 'Les Illuminations' were also in evidence in the ever-fresh Simple Symphony, reworkings for strings of juvenilia. Despite a certain scrappiness and careless articulation at the beginning of 'Boisterous Bouree', the remainder of the piece was delightful, with a witty 'Playful Pizzicato', a beautifully-balanced 'Sentimental Saraband' and an incisive finale.
The Shostakovich First continued the standards set by the first half. The already multifaceted musical language of this most impressive of graduation test pieces (written when the composer was not yet twenty) was expertly delineated by Masur's scrupulous attention to detail. The LSO responded wholeheartedly to his approach. The angular writing of the opening was highlighted, and set the tone for a reading in which contrasts were positively relished. The Allegro second movement was nothing short of virtuoso, the oboe solo of the Lento marvellously plangent. A fitting high point to a thoroughly enjoyable concert.
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