The early 1940s were a creative and productive time for Benjamin Britten. In 1943, the year he turned 30, he wrote the two works on this program, Prelude and Fugue for 18 Solo Strings, and the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings. His Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and the opera Peter Grimes would follow just two years later.
The Prelude and Fugue is a succinct but vital piece, opening with passionate violin chords and leading into a dynamic fugue where every single instrument gets to make a thematic statement. Sydney Symphony Concertmaster Andrew Haveron, who directed the performance as first violinist, kept the playing crisp and alive, pacing the build to the final climax with care and sensitivity.
Those qualities continued in the Serenade. This song cycle of English poetry was the first major work Britten composed for his partner, tenor Peter Pears.