Classical Music: Britten tribute part of jam-packed weekend

Late November is always busy when it comes to classical concerts, with performing organizations eager to wrap up their fall seasons before the holiday music takes over in early December.

This coming week will be scarcely less busy than the last, and even worse in terms of scheduling conflicts. And that’s a shame, since the range of repertoire being offered is extraordinary.

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On Saturday and Sunday alone, for instance, Pacific Opera Victoria and the Victoria Symphony will collaborate to perform the musical South Pacific; the Early Music Society of the Islands will present an interesting doubleheader — one concert of 17th-century Italian chamber music, another of 14th- and 15th-century lute music — and the a cappella vocal sextet Hexaphone will perform a wide-ranging program of music all composed or arranged by women.

(For more information, go to victoriasymphony.ca, earlymusicsocietyoftheislands.ca, and hexaphone.org.)

Three other noteworthy concerts, on successive days, will all showcase faculty members of the University of Victoria’s School of Music.

On Saturday, the centenary of the birth of English composer Benjamin Britten will be celebrated once more in a concert organized by guitarist Alexander Dunn, who will join other local instrumentalists and vocalists in a diverse program of works composed by Britten between 1940 and 1963 (8 p.m., Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, $17.50/$13.50).

Much of the program reflects Britten’s interest in early English music. The curtain-raiser is a group of his realizations of songs by Purcell, performed by mezzo-soprano Kathryn Whitney, and two other pieces are intended to serve double duty by marking the 450th birthday this year of Tudor composer John Dowland. Dunn himself will perform Nocturnal after John Dowland, while violist Guyonne Le Louarn will perform Lachrymae; both works are suites of what Britten called “reflections” on songs by Dowland, in the latter case his most famous song, Flow my teares.

Dunn will also accompany soprano Anne Grimm in the six Songs from the Chinese, the piano duet of Roger Buksa and Anna Cal will perform the short Introduction and Rondo alla burlesca, and cellist Paula Kiffner and pianist Robert Holliston will bring the concert to a close with the wonderfully idiosyncratic, five-movement Cello Sonata in C Major, which Britten wrote in 1961 for the great Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich (with whom he gave the première).

Britten will receive his meed of tribute in a concert on Sunday, too, when the Lafayette String Quartet will perform his quirky Three Divertimenti, from 1936, though the principal honouree on this occasion will be the venue: Congregation Emanu-El, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year — it is the oldest house of worship in B.C. and the oldest continuously operating synagogue in Canada (1461 Blanshard St., 2:30 p.m., $30).

The LSQ has a longstanding connection with Emanu-El, and has performed there before, but this concert is special: It will be the finale of Jewish Arts 2013, Emanu-El’s year-long cultural festival, which has included musical and theatrical performances, displays of art and artifacts, talks, and other events. The LSQ will be joined by two other UVic faculty members, tenor Benjamin Butterfield and pianist Arthur Rowe, in a program that will open with songs by Schubert and Vaughan Williams (the latter’s gorgeous cycle On Wenlock Edge) and culminate in Schubert’s big A-minor quartet, the “Rosamunde.”

Finally, on Monday, pianist Michelle Mares will ascend two peaks of the early-Romantic virtuoso repertoire: Chopin’s Op. 10 and Op. 25 études (8 p.m., Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, $17.50 and $13.50).

The concert is a logical outcome of Mares’s recent intimate involvement with these two sets, each comprising a dozen études that are as musically rich as they are technically treacherous. For the past three years, she has taught a class on Chopin’s études as part of the Victoria of Conservatory of Music’s Summer Academy, and in conjunction with those classes she has given informal lecture-recitals on both Op. 10 (in 2011) and Op. 25 (this year).

Monday’s ambitious program is significant in another respect, too: In 2009, the year after she moved to Victoria following two decades based in Europe, Mares broke her right wrist in a fall, requiring surgery, and by choosing to perform Chopin’s 24 challenging études she is making it clear that she has recovered.

(For details of these UVic concerts, go to finearts.uvic.ca/music/events.)

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