Saturday, June 28, 2008


The Harris Theater was the scene for yet another of Benjamin Britten’s underappreciated vocal masterpieces tonight when the sensational French Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin dazzled in a performance of Les Illuminations, songs inspired by the perverse genius of Arthur Rimbaud.

This early cycle, written in 1939 , when Britten had moved to America as he thought for good (it was not to be), is a rich goldmine of musical invention, and a precursor of his great vocal music yet to come.

Obviously in love with the poete maudit and his dark visions, Britten almost becomes a Frenchman for this work. And Karina Gauvin with her range and technique had the musical and textual complexities under her command at all times.

The strings are used in strikingly orchestral ways from the opening fanfares on and there is such a wide range of tonal color in this piece that I almost had to check on my memory later to make sure it was only strings I had heard!

The tub-thumping of Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra was the hardly necessary second half of the program. But even this oft-heard piece in a more than respectable performance could not erase the excellence of the English masterpiece that came before.