Saffron Walden Choral Society
Saffron Walden Symphony Orchestra
Saffron Hall: Saturday 17 June 2018
Make a joyful noise – Alleluia! The blazing conclusion to William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast rang out in full-throated splendour. Singers and players rose to the occasion, united in glorious technicolour.
Walton was 27 when the BBC invited him to write a choral work suitable for broadcasting. A friend of the Sitwells, it was Osbert who selected texts from the Book of Daniel and Psalm 137. The drama and colour of the story suited Walton’s musical gifts to perfection.
This is demanding music, calling for stamina and precision. Saffron Walden Choral Society had clearly worked hard on the score and sang with great purpose. But, when exposed and unaccompanied, they were challenged by Walton’s bitter-sweet harmonies. Saffron Walden Symphony Orchestra, with extra brass in the gallery, played with expertise and gusto, at times outweighing the chorus. Paul Carey Jones (bass-baritone) was commanding and dramatic, enunciating the story with rich sonority. The conductor, Richard Hull, controlled the forces with authority and skill.
The concert opened with Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances. Familiar themes from West Side Story are woven into a continuous, jazz-inspired orchestral tapestry. After a cautious start, it took flight in the Mambo, and became increasingly confident and incisively rhythmic.
Before the interval James Davey directed a fine account of Tippett’s Five Spirituals for unaccompanied chorus. SWCS responded to every nuance, conveying the fervour and ecstatic nature of these superb arrangements with stylish expressiveness.
A cleverly devised and enjoyable concert, featuring jazz-infused works from three of the 20th century’s finest composers.