This lunchtime concert formed part of the European Chamber Music Academy series of performances by up-and-coming chamber ensembles. First, the Wu Quartet played Britten’s String Quartet No. 2 in C Op. 36, a wonderful, complex work. It sounded to me as it was telling a story, full of melodies talking to each other and transforming into new ones. It is clearly a difficult work to play but they managed it well, even if they looked exhausted at the end – apart from the quartet’s leader, Qian Wu, who smiled triumphantly. The Streeton Trio then played Brahms’ Piano Trio No. 3 in C minor Op. 101. It is a shame the concert was programmed in this order. The Brahms trio would have made a good warm up for the Britten but, coming second, I felt it was somewhat overshadowed by the much greater complexity of the Britten quartet, even though it was played highly skilfully.
This was as perfect as an opera can be. John Graham-Hall as von Aschenbach sang an extraordinarily demanding role perfectly. His final, vocally demanding aria, sung virtually unaccompanied, at the end of three hours was full of heartbreak. Deborah Warner’s direction, Tom Pye’s set and Jean Kalman’s lighting were all so perfect that I have to mention them, as I do the brilliant conducting of Edward Gardner. I was pleased to be sitting where we could not see the surtitles as every word John Graham-Hall sang was perfectly clear, as were most of the others. It’s only after reading other reviews I discovered they wisely chose not to use the surtitles. This should be standard for Britten operas: he wrote for the English language so perfectly you can almost hear the words in the music alone.