By Louis Lebherz
IT WAS WITH WORDS that Benjamin Britten’s compositional skills were most inspired. The Serenade for Tenor, Horns and Strings, with a “comprehensive anthology of British poetry on nocturnal themes,” was composed in London in 1943 while Britten, stricken with a severe case of measles, was also working on his first full-scale opera, Peter Grimes. Although Britten did not think of the Serenade as an important work, along with his opera Peter Grimes it served to identify his genius. Saturday evening at St. Philip’s Church in Carmel Valley, Ensemble Monterey under the able baton of John Anderson presented an eclectic program highlighted by the Britten Serenade and Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. Although the Tchaikovsky was the featured piece, it was indeed the Britten which stole the show. The horn solo which opens the work, and then finishes it from off stage, is an extended fanfare that seems to end the day. Scott Hartman played the horn masterfully as Britten exploited the instrument from its highest notes to its lowest, including unvalved natural overtones. However it was tenor Adam Klein (left) who was the star. Showing great vocal skill and agility, he sang the six poems very clearly with artistic excellence.
The fifteen-member string ensemble opened the evening accompanying various soli combinations. The concert began with a world premiere, composer Barry Phillips’ very lovely Suite for Flute, Harp and Strings. Lars Johannesson was the flutist with harpist Jennifer Cass. The piece has evolved to its present form over a number of years. Phillips stated in the program notes that he thinks of it as an exploration of texture, contrast and emotion in a tonal music setting. He accomplished this very neatly. Johannesson played with excellent control, always very balanced with the strings. Cass was often accompanying the flute, but in her solo moments she caressed her harp through an array of colors. The piece is in four short movements and left this listener wanting more.
A special presentation by the Youth Music Monterey Woodwind Quintet opened the second half of the concert with Carl Nielsen’s Quintet for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Horn and Bassoon. This is one of Nielsen’s most widely performed works and is considered a staple in the repertoire for these instruments. The young players confidently worked their way through the challenging piece. The nuances of Nielsen’s masterpiece generally escaped them, but the experience was very worthwhile.
The finale of the evening was Tchaikovsky’s popular Serenade for Strings, composed in 1880, just before Tchaikovsky penned one of his most memorable compositions, the 1812 Overture. On the second page of the score he wrote, “The larger number of players in the string orchestra, the more this shall be in accordance with the author’s wishes.” Anderson and the fifteen string players worked diligently to achieve the sonority expected by the composer. With the friendly confines of St. Philips aiding the ensemble with its warm acoustics, the effect was quite pleasing. It is very gratifying to have such a fine chamber orchestra on the Monterey Peninsula.