After a stint of recording, we are back in concert mode this week for a concert that will not only include Beethoven's wonderful Emperor Concerto, but also Benjamin Britten's Spring Symphony.

The concert will be part of the global Britten100 celebrations - celebrations that we at the BBC National Orchestra of Wales are very excited to be contributing to.

Benjamin Britten conducting a rehearsal of the English Chamber Orchestra, 1967

Although, strictly speaking, a choral symphony, Britten's Spring Symphony has more than a taste of oratorio to it. Something of the work's essence has always reminded me of earlier English sacred works such as Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, or Elgar's Dream of Gerontius. However, the Spring Symphony has no sacred subject - this work is a towering hymn of joy and praise to the passing of the seasons, of the melting of winter into spring.

Unusually, there is no single librettist, but rather the texts are lifted from the works of many 16th and 17th century writers, with the exception of the texts from William Blake, and from Britten's long time friend, WH Auden. Comprising 12 fairly short movements, the work is organised into four parts that loosely make up an overall framework of fast - slow - scherzo - finale.

Part One opens somewhat hesitantly. As the orchestra comes to life, it is joined by the Chorus, which demands the Sun to 'shine out, and make this Winter night/Our beauty's Spring, our Prince of Light'. The setting of the text is urgent and vital; an almost pagan like exaltation of the imminent giving way of winter to spring.

Indeed, Part One (movements 1-5) is mostly given over to the arrival and acknowledgement of the signs of the spring. There are bird calls (most notably, the cuckoo in the second movement), a chorus of schoolboys whistling, and a hymn to the morning star, the 'day's harbinger'.

There is a sensuousness to Part Two that is reflected in both the musical language and the text. One is given a sense of languid afternoons in the lengthening days and growing heat of the season. Part Three, by contrast, becomes increasingly exuberant as the participants gather to celebrate the May festival, and become gradually more amorous and (possibly) more inebriated. There's a reference to Morris dancing, that's the sort of party it is.

In Part Four, the work reaches C major and the acme of its exuberance. I love the cow horn that is featured in this movement - it just seems so right and fitting, and it makes me smile every time I hear it.

Boosey & Hawkes, publishers of Britten's catalogue, describe the Spring Symphony as "one of the most original choral/orchestral works of the first half of the 20th century" and I'm inclined to agree with them. At times reverend, by turns raucous, this work is a musical tour de force.

The Spring Symphony celebrates the promise of the spring, the imminence of its arrival, and the unique character of the season. If this doesn't raise your spirits as we press through winter, I don't know what will!

BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales perform Britten's Spring Symphony at St David's Hall, Cardiff this Friday (25 January). For tickets and more information, call 0800 052 1812, or book online at

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