To celebrate the centenary of Benjamin Britten’s birth, cellist Matthew Barley has undertaken a colossal tour consisting of 100 concerts, workshops and masterclasses.
Seven pieces formed a concert he called ‘The Cycle of the Soul’ which moved through pre-existence, life itself, death, afterlife and reincarnation.
Dai Fujikura’s haunting work The Spirit of Beings was written while his wife was having their first baby and deals with the notion of the soul existing before birth. The piece was somewhat conventional with little interaction between the beautiful, idiomatic cello writing and the accompanying electronic part.
Tre Laude Dolce by Gavin Bryars was played wonderfully and provided the perfect transition to Bach’s Suite No. 5 in C Minor, which Barley performed with a sense of drama and intensity; the richness of the cello’s low register resonating through the concert space.
The centrepiece of the concert, representing death in the cellist’s conceptual cycle, was Britten’s Third Suite for Cello. Written when he was ill, and incorporating the Kontaktion (the Russian Hymn for the Dead), mortality was clearly on the composer’s mind.
Despite this, the work isn’t doleful or morbid. In fact, tonight’s performance was uplifting, touching and meditative. The accompanying visuals created by Yeast Culture were perfectly realised and enhanced the experience without distracting from the sensitivity of the performance.
Jan Bang’s Noticing Things was a fun, electronic reworking of Dai Fujkura’s concert opener. Barley proved himself to be an able improviser, constructing a cello line that subtly hinted at the Britten and Bach we heard previously.
And He Rose, by James MacMillan, was a frenetic, tempestuous work. Amid the virtuosic flourishes, modal melodies emerged. The concert ended with Mark O’Connor’s Appalachia Waltz; a simple, charming, folk-inspired tune.
A remarkable concert, full of exciting pieces, sensitively programmed and expertly performed.