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Bryn Terfel, Britten Sinfonia, Barbican review – a moment of re-connection | reviews, news & interviews

Bryn Terfel, Britten Sinfonia, Barbican review – a moment of re-connection

Bryn Terfel, Britten Sinfonia, Barbican review – a moment of re-connection

A remedial tonic of an evening in a socially-distanced Barbican

Guildhall memories: Sir Bryn TerfelMark Allan/Barbican

This concert by Sir Bryn Terfel and the Britten Sinfonia, the very first concert given at the Barbican in front of an audience since 15 March, was surely in need of some stronger explanation than that offered by the blurb for the evening, namely “comfort and familiarity” and a “remedial tonic of an evening.”

There was, and more than one. First there was a biographical story: as the Welsh singer explained, the first and second elements of the three-part programme had both a personal and a local significance for him. The second work, Gerald Finzi’s cycle of Shakespeare songs Let us Garlands bring was the audition piece he had sung to gain admittance to the Guildhall School, just round the corner from the Barbican, as an 18-year-old in 1984. And the first work, Bach’s cantata Ich habe genug, was the piece he performed for his first professional engagement on leaving the school in 1989.

The Finzi, at the heart of the programme, was glorious. And the smiles which spontaneously broke out on the faces on the faces of some of the Britten Sinfonia’s players during “Who is Silvia?” told the story. For the musicians, and for us as audience, there needed to be a moment of re-connection with what they do, and this was it. There was so much to enjoy musically throughout the sequence of five songs. The central song, “Fear no more the heat of the sun”, was quite beautifully shaped and paced. The flexibility and freedom of tempo – without a conductor – in “It was a lover and his lass” was also to be treasured. And there were some wonderful details to be savoured along the way. That extraordinary reflective melisma on the word “weep” in “Come Away Death” carried real emotion, and Terfel and the strings combined to bring a wonderful intensity to the phrase “Fear not slander, censure rash”.The opening Bach featured Nicholas Daniel, eloquent on both oboe and cor anglais and Terfel, once his voice had settled, capturing well the sense of wonder in the story of Simeon being entranced and moved by seeing and holding the infant Jesus. The third and final section brought us to the land of song and hiraeth, for two much-sung and recorded Terfel staples, “Ar Hyd y Nos” (All Through the Night) and “Ar Lan Y Mor” (Down by the Sea), both featuring young Welsh-born oboist Myfanwy Price (pictured above with Terfel and other players), who is being mentored by Nicholas Daniel as part of Barbara Hannigan’s “Momentum: our future, now” project. These were part of a sequence which also included some new Ivor Novello arrangements, mostly by Iain Farrington, who also played piano (and chamber organ in the Bach). The best of these was a touching “We’ll gather lilacs” with a deliciously unresolved ending.

This the first of 12 "Live from the Barbican” events between now and December, most of the series supported by an anonymous donor. They include three events featuring talent from the new London jazz scene, notably another Guildhall alumnus Shabaka Hutchings, and one including no fewer than seven Kanneh-Masons. With ticket prices £20 in the hall or £12.50 online, and with heavily discounted tickets for Under-25s, just about all of them are “sold out” – which in this very strange new world, means about 15% of the the Barbican’s capacity, or about 300 people on its three levels.


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