Sunday, June 24, 2012

Britten's "Noye's Fludde", used in "Moonrise Kingdom", is worth a hearing on its own

Since some music from Benjamin Britten’s “Noye’s Fludde” (“Noah’s Flood”, Op. 59) figures into the climactic hurricane scene in the recent indie film “Moonrise Kingdom”, I looked for an audio CD of the work, and there weren’t a lot of them.  It’s usually paired with Britten’s “Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings” or the vaudeville “The Golden Vanity” (Op. 78).

I found a 1961 recording of Noye in the London ADRM series (CD 425161), with Norman Del Mar conducting the English Chamber Orchestra with Owen Brannigan as Noah, Shelia Rex as his wife, David Pinto as Sam and Dariel Angadi as Ham.  The work is performed with An East Suffolk Children’s Orchestra  representing the Chorus of Animals.

The work features a lot of spirited union singing, which rises to climax after the storm (used in the film) and then at the very end with the “spacious firmament”.  The short opera (48 min) is based on one of the 24 Miracle and Mystery Plays performed at Chester.  The last section is quite climactic, but dies to a quiet ending in G Major.  The music also has a three-note theme that anticipates the Passacaglia in “Peter Grimes”.
An interesting preoccupation of the plot is the refusal of Noah’s wife to go, and her forceful rescue into the ship just before the storm starts.

The meaning of the story in a modern context is disturbing.  Everyone of us is vulnerable to disasters beyond our control, that can destroy everything we “have”, and force us to accept interdependence on one another (or on God, of course). Trevor Anthony bellows the Voice of God.

The Golden Vanity” (17 minutes) is a vaudeville for boys and piano, with the composer performing (in 1966), and the Wandsworth Boys Choir conducted by Russell Burgess.  There is a bosun and a cabin boy (Barnaby Jago) who drowns in the piece, recalling some ideas of “Billy Budd”.   The original ballad, by Colin Graham, has a curious concept of self-sacrifice and perhaps “unit cohesion”.  The music is in the form of a theme and variations (in four sections) and the ending is surprisingly loud and upbeat given what has happened.   

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