Britten The Burning Fiery Furnace

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Britten The Burning Fiery Furnace

  • (The) Burning Fiery Furnace

If Curlew River is the best and most moving of Britten's three church parables, The Burning Fiery Furnace is the most colourful and exotic. It also has humour; and Nebuchadnezzar gave Sir Peter Pears a role which ideally suited him vocally and histrionically. The remarkable East-West orchestration which Britten adopted for the parables, with its mixture of gamelan and chamber ensemble, and the mesmerizing soloistic use of viola, double-bass, alto trombone, flute and harp are at their peak in the Furnace. It is curious, too, now that the idiom is familiar, how one notices that while it points forward to Death in Venice, the echoes of earlier works strike us today more forcefully—Puck from A Midsummer Night's Dream in the Acolytes' music, for example, and reminiscences of Claggart and Vere in Billy Budd when Nebuchadnezzar grows irritable with the Astrologer.
This recording was made in 1967 in Orford Church, the birthplace and inspiration of the parables, and produced by John Culshaw. It conveys with the utmost fidelity the extraordinary atmosphere that a Britten performance created in this milieu, with the cast carefully chosen and rehearsed. I suppose that another recording will be made one day, but one can safely say that this one, which sounds even better on CD than it does on LP, will remain definitive and, in a very real sense, irreplaceable. Performances like those of Bryan Drake as the Astrologer and John Shirley-Quirk as Shadrach, encapsulate the Aldeburgh style of the 1960s.'

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