by Daniel Hathaway
It would be Benjamin Britten’s hundredth birthday this year, and The Cleveland Orchestra is programming three of the British composer’s works as a centenary tribute. This weekend’s concerts featured one of his most characteristic works. Written in 1943 for the phenomenal hornist Dennis Brain and Britten’s life partner and tenor of choice, Peter Pears, the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings sets splendid nocturnal poetry to music so well-tailored to its texts that it’s difficult to read the verse now without hearing Britten’s music running through your head.
Britten almost invariably wrote for specific performers with their special musical gifts in mind. In many cases, their interpretations have become proprietary — perhaps one of the reasons other musicians have been reticent about taking them on. But Dennis Brain ran his car into a tree returning from the Edinburgh Festival in 1957, and ten years after Britten’s own demise, Peter Pears died at the Red House in Aldeburgh in 1986. That left the Serenade field wide open — at least for virtuoso horn players with embouchures of steel and high tenors with exquisite literary sensibilities. [Read more…]