Sir Bryn Terfel with Britten Sinfonia
Approximate running time: 83 minutes, no interval
Harriet Smith dives deeper into Sir Bryn Terfel’s programme.
Among the many extraordinary achievements of J S Bach, one of the most remarkable is the prodigious number of cantatas he produced for services at St Thomas’s Church in Leipzig, where he was in charge of music from 1723 until his death in 1750. There isn’t a dud among the near 200 that have come down to us, though some have inevitably risen to the surface to gain a life outside their original sacred context. No 82, Ich habe genug (‘It is enough’), written in 1727, is one such and it’s not difficult to appreciate why: no religious leanings are needed to experience the intensity of emotion conveyed within it. Bach knew he’d hit gold and reworked it several times but the best-known is that for bass, supported by obbligato oboe and strings, the natural weightiness of the voice perfectly conveying the seriousness of the subject matter, in which the believer sings of a weariness of the world and a longing for the hereafter.
In Lutheranism the image of dying being depicted as falling asleep is a popular device, and nowhere is that more searingly conjured than in the cantata’s central aria ‘Schlummert ein’ (Close in sleep, you weary eyes). This forms the heart of a cantata that couldn’t be simpler structurally, with no choruses or chorales, just five movements, three arias interspersed with two recitatives. The work begins in an elegiac mood, with an aria expressing readiness for death, voice and oboe intertwining with great poignancy. This is reinforced in the two recitatives, in which the protagonist emphasises his readiness for death. The final aria is a dancing affirmation of faith, somehow ebullient despite its minor-key tonality.
Why is it that Gerald Finzi is still relatively underrated? Could it be that he was just out of kilter with musical fashions of his time, his gift being one of intense lyricism? He offered Let us garlands bring – a sequence of five settings of Shakespeare – as a birthday present for his friend Ralph Vaughan Williams whose 70th birthday fell on 12 October 1942. He originally wrote them for baritone and piano, but soon after orchestrated them, the version we hear tonight.
Garlands brings together pre-existing songs, the earliest ‘Fear no more’ forming an elegiac and heartfelt centrepiece to the cycle. It comes from Cymbeline and talks of time as a great leveller. In the opening song, ‘Come away, death’ (Twelfth Night), Finzi emphasises the word ‘death’ with deliberate dissonances but there’s also a folk-like quality to much of the vocal writing. Matters are lightened in ‘Who is Silvia?’ from Shakespeare’s early play The Two Gentlemen of Verona, while the fourth, ‘O mistress mine’, also from Twelfth Night, is set on its way by a tripping, gently strummed backdrop, the vocal line initially light-hearted, though Finzi finds unexpected intensity in the last two lines of each verse. The final song sets an evergreen text from As you like it – ‘It was a lover and his lass’ – with the composer responding with a buoyantly syncopated energy.
Bryn Terfel turns to his beloved Wales for the remainder of the programme, interspersing traditional melodies with three songs by Ivor Novello. Two numbers come from The Dancing Years, which was unveiled in a lavish production in London’s Drury Lane in 1939. The Cardiff-born all-rounder designed it as a vehicle for his own acting skills, taking the male lead, Rudi, a poor Jewish composer in a complex love triangle between Maria the opera singer and Grete, the innkeeper’s daughter. The work’s backdrop of Nazi persecution gave it a terrible relevance to audiences during the Second World War and it was hugely successful. ‘I can give you the starlight’ was originally sung by Maria in which she relates how love has transformed her from self-absorption to generosity. ‘My dearest dear’ is introduced by Novello as Rudi and then sung in response by Maria, and closes with the words of hope: ‘A little waiting and you’ll reach my heart’.
‘Keep the home fires burning’, which like the other two Novello numbers has been arranged by Iain Farrington, was written in 1914 at a time when it was still hoped the First World War would be over in a matter of months. It was very much designed to rouse patriotic thoughts among both volunteer soldiers and those left at home, its text by the American poet Lena Guilbert Ford shamelessly milking the emotions.
Of Ar hyd y nos (‘All through the night’), orchestrator Chris Hazell has written: ‘This has a wonderful simplicity and calm wherever it is played or sung, regardless of the word setting in Welsh, English or any other language for that matter. It is this very simplicity which guided me in making this arrangement. The song speaks for itself, and all I needed to do was add a little support.’
Ar lan y môr (‘On the seashore’) is a lament addressed to the poet’s sweetheart. The simplest but most haunting of folk melodies has proved a gift to arrangers down the ages, offering opportunities for harmonies and orchestration that are ever fresh, as Chris Hazell and Bryan Davies amply demonstrate.
Approximate running time: 83 minutes, no interval
Please note all timings are approximate and subject to change.
This performance is subject to government guidelines.
Programme and performers
Johann Sebastian Bach Cantata No 82, Ich habe genug
Gerald Finzi Let us garlands bring, Op 18
1. ‘Come away, death’
2. ‘Who is Silvia?’
3. ‘Fear no more the heat o' the sun’
4. ‘O mistress mine’
5. ‘It was a lover and his lass’
Ivor Novello I can give you the starlight, arr Iain Farrington
Welsh Traditional Ar hyd y nos, arr Chris Hazell
Ivor Novello My dearest dear, arr Iain Farrington
Welsh Traditional Ar lan y môr, arr Bryan Davies/Chris Hazell/Iain Farrington
Ivor Novello Keep the home fires burning, arr Iain Farrington
This concert is generously supported by an anonymous donor
Sir Bryn Terfel bass-baritone
Iain Farrington piano
Jacqueline Shave leader
Nicholas Daniel oboe
Myfanwy Price oboe
International Welsh bass-baritone Sir Bryn Terfel has performed in all the great opera houses and concert halls of the world and in 2017, was awarded a knighthood for his services to music.
During August this year, the Grammy, Classical Brit and Gramophone Award winner made his role debut as Don Pizarro in Fidelio at the Schloßberg in Graz, Austria. Other highlights include the Title Role in Don Pasquale for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and Scarpia in Tosca for ROH and Vienna State Opera, the Title Role in Boris Godunov for Deutsche Oper Berlin and ROH and his house debut at ABAO Bilbao Opera as Holländer in Der fliegende Holländer.
A celebrated recitalist, he is equally renowned for his versatility as a concert performer with highlights ranging from the opening ceremony of the Wales Millennium Centre and BBC Last Night of the Proms to a Gala Concert with Andrea Bocelli in Central Park, New York. For nine years he hosted his own festival in Faenol, North Wales.
Bryn Terfel appers courtesy of Deutsche Grammophon Gesellschaft.
In 1992 Britten Sinfonia was established as a bold reimagining of the conventional image of a chamber orchestra. A flexible ensemble of some of the UK’s leading soloists and chamber musicians came together with a unique vision: to collapse the boundaries between old and new music, to collaborate with composers, performers and guest artists across artforms and genres; and to create involving, intelligent music events that both audiences and performers experience with an unusual intensity.
Britten Sinfonia is an Associate Ensemble at the Barbican in London and Resident Orchestra at Saffron Hall, has residencies in Norwich and Cambridge and performs a chamber music series at Wigmore Hall. The orchestra has a busy international touring schedule, appearing throughout Europe, the USA and Asia and its 2018 performance with The Sixteen at the Sistine Chapel reached more than a million people worldwide.
Iain Farrington has a busy and diverse career as a pianist, organist, composer and arranger. He has performed as a soloist, accompanist and chamber musician across the world with many of the UK's leading musicians. He has composed orchestral, choral and instrumental pieces and has arranged hundreds of works in many styles. His orchestral work Beethoveniana was recently composed for the BBC Proms 2020.
Jacqueline Shave received her formal training at the Royal Academy of Music, but drew her particular performance inspiration and love of chamber music from her time at the Britten-Pears School in Snape. On leaving the Academy she became Leader of English Touring Opera, but soon made the decision to dedicate herself to chamber music, leading the Schubert Ensemble and then co-founding and leading the Brindisi Quartet for fifteen years, with whom she recorded and gave concerts worldwide.
She is in demand as a guest leader with many of the UKs leading orchestras and ensembles including the Nash Ensemble, London Sinfonietta, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, English Chamber Orchestra, Composers Ensemble, BBC Scottish and Royal Philharmonic Orchestras .She was appointed leader of Britten Sinfonia in 2005. In 2013 she additionally became leader of the Red Note Ensemble, a contemporary music group in Glasgow and is the violinist in the Britten Oboe Quartet with Nicholas Daniel.
In 2011 she took a year away to explore other musical pathways, which resulted in Postcards from Home, a world music/jazz CD in collaboration with Kuljit Bhamra (tabla) and John Parricelli (guitar). She also presented a complete Beethoven string quartet cycle on the Hebridean island of Harris, and gave a free improvisation concert in a cave on Hestur, in the North Atlantic Faroe Islands. Jacqueline is writing more and more and recently had a piece premiered in London by Britten Sinfonia and tenor Nicholas Mulroy entitled Three Landscapes for oboe quartet and voice set to poems of Laurie Lee, Clifford Dyment and WB Yeats.
Jacqueline plays on a Nicola Amati violin, from 1672.
Nicholas Daniel’s long and distinguished career began when, at the age of 18, he won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition and went on to win further competitions in Europe. As one of the UK's most distinguished soloists as well as a highly successful conductor, he has become an important ambassador for music and musicians in many different fields. In recognition of this, he was awarded the prestigious Queen's Medal for Music.
Nicholas has been heard on every continent and has been a concerto soloist with many of the world’s leading orchestras and conductors. In addition to his extensive experience in baroque and 19th-century music, he is an important force in the creation and performance of new repertoire for oboe, and has premiered works by many composers including Sir Harrison Birtwistle, James MacMillan and Sir Michael Tippett. Nicholas also enjoys an increasingly busy schedule as a conductor.
An active chamber musician, Nicholas is a founder member of the Haffner Wind Ensemble and the Britten Oboe Quartet and enjoys a long history of collaboration with artists including the pianist Julius Drake and the Maggini and Lindsay string quartets. He is Artistic Director of the Leicester International Festival, and teaches in the UK and in Germany, where is he Professor of Oboe at the Musikhochschule, Trossingen.
Myfanwy Price began her oboe studies at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Junior Department. She went on to complete her BMUS degree and the Master of Performance (Orchestral Specialism) course at the RCM. For several years, she was the principal oboist in the National Youth Orchestra of Wales and the National Youth Wind Orchestra of Wales, as well as in local youth orchestras. These ensembles enabled her to tour and perform in venues around the world, including Carnegie Hall, the Konzerthaus Berlin and the Royal Albert Hall. In addition, she was given the opportunity to rehearse and perform with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales in three collaboration projects between them and the NYOW, the last of which culminated in a performance at the BBC Proms. Myfanwy has recently performed with Chineke! and has recently started being mentored by Nicholas Daniel as part of Barbara Hannigan’s Momentum scheme for artists affected by the Covid crisis.
The Barbican Hall is located within the main Barbican building. Head to Level G and follow the signs to find your seating level.
Silk Street, London
The Barbican is widely accessible by bus, tube, train and by foot or bicycle. Plan your journey and find more route information in ‘Your Visit’ or book your car parking space in advance.
Spaces for wheelchair users in row U at the rear of the stalls (up to sixteen, depth of row 180cm) and the back row of the circle (four), both with fold-down companion seats. Some seats in row S of the stalls for people with very limited mobility.
Assistance dogs may be taken into the concert hall where there are a limited number of suitable seats in row G of the stalls. If you prefer, you may leave your dog with a member of the cloakroom staff during the performance.
There is an induction loop in the concert hall. You can use this by adjusting your hearing aid to the ‘T’ setting.