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Fair.” The soprano and tenor displace each other rhythmically, the only stability being supplied by violins at first, then lower strings happily strumming along. The children’s voices return in Blake’s “Sound the Flute!” This movement is sadly barely more than a minute long, but it quickly sets up Britten’s use of the various “choirs” of the ensemble: winds, brass, strings, adult voices, and children’s voices will be used in a similar force- upon-force style in the ensuing Finale.

By all means the most complex part of the work, the Finale culminates in what feels like the entire world joining together in song. Using the address of the Maylord from Beaumont and Fletcher’s The Knight of the Burning Pestle, nothing less than a cow horn introduces the tenor’s entreaties. The city, the town and every shire join together in a great free-for-all of revelry. (At this point, an old copy of the Oxford English Dictionary might be handy. The text is delightful, if at times elusive.) One clever felicity follows another, until we are almost overwhelmed by the composer’s resourceful ingenuity. Just as we perhaps begin to lose track of all the ideas, our heads swimming in gestures and colorful texts, the Maylord, with one very loud bang of his “gilded staff,” reorganizes the assembled forces—some 240 in tonight’s performance—with the direction that we all go “a-maying.” Now words are no longer sufficient. The entire throng joins together in a wordless song, a full-throated vocalise, no doubt substantially fortified by ale and May wine. This is proven out by some unexpected and rather topsy-turvy modulations. The crowning glory is an enthralling moment when the children’s voices re-enter the scene and sing the thirteenth-century song “Sumer is icumen in.” The ultimate triumph of this simple tune, sung in 2/4 time over the unyielding 3/4 waltz of the rest of the ensemble, is just. Eventually the celebrations slowly begin to subside, and with a decidedly cinematographic effect, our vantage point becomes gradually more and more distant. The Maylord offers a final benediction, and with one last self-absorbed proclamation, he sings “and so, my friends, I cease.” [Fine.]

  • J.T.

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