Ear Supply: Both Sides of Britten

Benjamin Britten, asked for a new work to commemorate the 1963 centennial of the Red Cross, logically chose to set to music a parable of charity Jesus tells in Luke: “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.” Who stopped to help—the priest? The Levite? No, only the Good Samaritan did. In this work, the Cantata misericordium, Britten draws great color and drama out of smallish instrumental forces—harp, timpani, strings—and the choir participates both in the tale and outside of it as commentators. The Seattle Choral Company performs it this Saturday. Some regard it as a kind of pendant to Britten’s great 1962 War Requiem, which the Seattle Symphony will play next week. Intended to be performed at the rebuilt Coventry Cathedral, bombed in WWII, Britten underlined the work’s impact by conceiving it for three vocal soloists, Peter Pears, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, and Galina Vishnevskaya—one English, one German, one Russian. For the text, he combined the traditional Latin Requiem Mass with poignant verse by Wilfred Owen, a young British poet killed in the previous war to end all wars. It’s the composer’s most overt public statement of his pacifist sympathies, with the Cantata an object-lesson postscript. Seattle Choral Company, St., Mark’s Cathedral, 1245 10th Ave. E., 800-838-3006, seattlechoralcompany.org. $10–$25. 8 p.m. Sat., June 8. • Seattle Symphony, Benaroya Hall, Third Ave. and Union St., 215-4747, seattlesymphony.org. $17–$112. 7:30 p.m. Thurs., June 13, 8 p.m. Sat., June 15.

 
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