Britten: Thou Now Art Great at Portsmouth Festivities

The Darkness. Picture by

Simon Emmett

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This was a celebration of the music of Benjamin Britten – in association with Britten100 – and Henry Purcell, one of Britten’s favourite composers.

Countertenor Paul du Plessis-Smith (former Portsmouth Choral Scholar), tenor Paul Bentley, and accompanist Richard Allum presented a programme that covered an array of moods and characters in works by both composers.

From gentle duets (In Vain the am’rous flute – Purcell), to agile solos (Bentley’s performance of Purcell’s If music be the food of love, and du Plessis-Smith’s of Here, the deities approve particularly stand out) – all the time with impeccable clarity of text and warmth of tone, albeit with very occasional infelicities in tuning.

Allum shone in Britten’s quirky and atmospheric Variations for Piano, demonstrating his delicate touch and deft dexterity; his control and sensitivity was tremendous.

Highlights were du Plessis-Smith’s excellent breath control, and Bentley’s performance of The Ash Grove (Britten surely had a glint in his eye when writing this arrangement!), but the indisputable climax was the duet Canticle II: Abraham and Isaac. Famous for being reworked in Britten’s War Reqiuem it was a showcase of the considerable talents of all three performers.