16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 18 August 2008
Brilliant - because this performance of Curlew River draws you in and makes you 'feel' the drama. Curious - because if you follow Britten's score, you discover that in a couple of places this performance (directed by Britten himself) departs from the score in terms of timing ... if one reads the score literally. I don't doubt that Britten knew exactly what he wanted - we are after all talking about a man who could compose an opera in his head and then write it down faster than I can even transcribe a score manually, so I take my hat off to him. It's just that this is about the only example I know of a recording of a Britten work, directed by the composer, in which what I hear doesn't quite match up with what I see in the score. HOWEVER don't let this put you off buying this recording. It is glorious. 'Curlew River' is far from being an easy work to appreciate, but many years ago I played this performance (in its previous incarnation on vinyl LP) to some friends who were unfamiliar with both this work and with Britten's music in general: and they were enthralled by it.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on 7 July 2003
This piece of music, inspired by a Japanese Noh play, is a stunning piece, and well worth adding to your collection. Beautiful singing in a beautifully produced cd - buy it now
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 11 September 2011
Brilliant Gregorian beginning in the sonority of a medieval church we can imagine Romanesque. And we are transported to an eternal time that has to be out of time.
We are introduced to the abandoned and the weak on the side of the road and God lifting them up, giving them some life back. God is with the dejected and rejected. The Curlew River becomes the divide between this world and another more humane world and the Ferryman is the Go-Between that takes you to the other side of your soul.
A rite is to be performed for the first anniversary of a burial on the other side of the river, a grave that is a curing place for the sick. The ferryman is going to bring the people to that shrine. The trumpet of the ferryman is like the trumpet of Jericho: crossing the river is like bringing down the wall that hides the unknown.
The harp brings the traveler evoking some mermaid, some voyage, from far behind to far ahead, from the remembered to the unknown, then a change occurs and is announced by the music.
The mad woman is introduced as crazy and having made people laugh with her raving. Her discourse is incoherent, she asks for passage as well as for passage to be refused to her. The reedy sound at that time shows that uncertainty, more than craziness. She is distracted by the loss of her child she is looking for and she sees and loses at the same time. Her discourse is incongruent and the music plays on these notes going up and then down as if hesitating to follow one way and only one.
She explains her son was stolen from her by a stranger and taken east. This dramatic event has made her mind unclear and fuzzy, which is expressed by the last syllable of the first lines going up and then systematically turning down. Is there still some hope? It sounds very bleak, a favorite theme with Benjamin Britten: the child enslaved by some adult that is no relative. He approaches the motif through the deranged mother.
Then the ferryman refuses to take her across the Curlew River and demands her to sing in order to entertain people. This rejection of the one who seems warped is surprising and yet common with Benjamin Britten who constantly tries to explore this divide between acceptance and refusal, normal and abnormal.
The madwoman starts speaking in a language that is too sophisticated and she starts more or less asking birds a question about the one she loves and if he is still alive. At this moment we feel all the expectancy in her mind, she is both suffering and hoping. The situation then becomes tense because everyone asks the ferryman to take the mad woman till he finally yields since she knows where she wants to go. The superposition and even contrast between voices though they are all men's voices create a deep dramatic tension.
Strangely enough the dividing river is turned into a connection bringing people closer to one another and on the other bank they discover people around a yew. The ferry has brought the west bank people to the east bank people. The music seems to be alternating between a forward movement and a retreat.
The explanation given by the ferryman about a boy that came along with a foreigner as his master, and that boy being sick while crossing and then unable to go on, was struck, abandoned by his master, taken care of by locals but he died after telling he was the only son of a dead nobleman and had been kidnapped. He dies and is buried along the way and a yew is planted. People say he is a saint, come, pray and take some earth to cure their sicknesses.
They all start praying a Kyrie Eleison of thankful hope for a sad but miraculous event. The music is then very light with some sad beauty, the beauty of the miracle and the sadness of the dead boy. The mad woman is weeping. They come to the shore, punctuated by the drums. The traveler and other people offer prayers to the boy, but the ferryman is pushing them, along with the drums and kettles, to make haste.
Then the madwoman realizes the boy must be her son. The music takes the shape of a dirge with long silences between sad sentences and the singing voices are superimposed without being unified, each one pulling in a different direction. The woman starts mourning and wants to see her son again. The music becomes a complex assemblage of whirls and whorls as if taken in a maelstrom of emotions. But the abbot tells her weeping does not help the child whereas a prayer may bring him peace. She yields and gets ready to deliver a prayer, while the toll is ringing on the percussions, persistent and sad.
Then the prayer becomes powerful with the superposition of the Traveler and madwoman's English on the monks' Latin very Gregorian chant. The alliance of modern music and medieval singing creates a very powerful atmosphere. The flute supports the madwoman with some rather sharp notes. And a very high pitched voice starts singing as if it were the voice of the child praying in his tomb. Then this spiritual voice introduces the spirit himself that comes to the madwoman and transforms her.
The spirit brings the good news that the dead will rise again and the singing becomes very pure on a single note like a continuo to gives depth to the sky high and spiritual singing. The conclusion can then go back to the Gregorian chant and Latin. The prediction is finished. The sign from God has been registered and accepted. The progressive building up of the unified medieval chorus really brings the piece to its fulfillment.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU