It's amazing what orchestral musicians manage to fit into their spare time. On Sunday, a little cheering squad of us went to watch three of our colleagues, Rob Plane, Naomi Thomas and Neil Shewan, run in the Cardiff Half Marathon. They all finished in disgustingly good times and were recovered suitably to return to work on Monday for a day of soundtrack recording with the lovely and ever-polite Ben Foster.
The rest of the week is devoted to an exciting programme of Britten and double Strauss with our Associate Guest Conductor, François-Xavier Roth.
The opening work on the programme will be Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem and I am very much looking forward to revisiting this work again (we last played it in the 2010 Proms season). Like most works by Britten, it has a really meaty viola part!
I find this a very affecting work. Britten was only 26 years old when he composed it and to a certain extent, he, a devoted pacifist and conscientious objector, used it as a vehicle to express his horror at the war that was unfurling around him and engulfing the world at large. It can come as little surprise that the movement titles come from the Latin words of the Mass for the Dead - Lacrymosa, Dies Irae and Requiem Aternum.
Incidentally, the work was composed as a result of a Japanese commission to mark the anniversary of the founding of the Japanese Empire, but Britten's use of Christian liturgical text was taken as a massive insult (and this being 1940, East and West were not on the friendliest of terms anyway). The Japanese were royally miffed, and the work did not get its première until the following year in the United States.
Listening to the work, it's amazing to be able to recognise the idiosyncrasies we associate with Britten's music already so evident in what is, essentially, an early work. The angular melodies, the driving rhythms, the dissonant yet strangely 'right' sounding harmonies - they are all there.
Playing the work, it's incredible to believe that this is the work of a young man in his late 20s. The viola part is brilliantly written. It plays to the instrument's best qualities and, while using the span of the its range, the part is very comfortable to play. That is not to say that it is lacking in challenge. There is a passage in the Dies Irae movement, where the notes are not in the least bit difficult, but rhythmically...? Well, I feel a little bit stressed just thinking about it. I can hand upon heart say that I will probably spend more time this week sitting with a metronome going over and over that passage than any other part of the concert's programme. It feels like it lasts forever too, but I think that's just the effect I get from not blinking the whole way through it for fear of losing my place and being the one person who plays an extra beat!Laura and the rest of the Orchestra will be performing Britten's Sinfonia da Requiem on Friday 21 October, 7.30pm, at St David's Hall, Cardiff. For more information and tickets contact the Audience Line on 0800 052 1812.