What to make of the Benjamin Britten centenary? The final concert program of the Castleton Festival, heard Saturday night, offered an excellent tribute to the British composer. How does one square one’s admiration for the beauty of Britten’s music with a clearer understanding, thanks to a well-researched and not sensationalized book by John Bridcut, of Britten’s attraction to teenage boys?
In his gorgeous song cycle “Les Illuminations,” on Rimbaud’s poetry, Britten dedicated the most overtly homoerotic song, “Antique,” to 18-year-old Wulff Scherchen, with whom he was obsessed. Conductor David Hanlon and the Festival Orchestra brought out the cycle’s riotous tapestry of instrumental colors, but most of the credit goes to tenor Andy McCullough, whose light and airy voice, with power where he needed it, was beautiful to hear. “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra,” played without the narration introducing each type of instrument, showed the woodwinds and brass in the best light, especially the variations for clarinets and trumpets. For all of the piece’s innocent delight, Britten dedicated it to Humphrey Maud, another one of his young favorites, whose father eventually demanded that Britten stop asking his son to spend his vacations with the composer at Aldeburgh.