Belshazzar’s Feast

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Saturday 26 April 2014 at 7.00pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

John Storgårds  conductor
Mark Stone  bass
William Gardner  treble
CBSO Chorus
CBSO Youth Chorus  

Holst: The Hymn of Jesus 23′
Bernstein: Chichester Psalms 19′
Walton: Belshazzar’s Feast 34′

1931: William Walton takes a huge choir and a massive symphony orchestra, adds a couple of brass bands – and blows English music sky-high. Big, brassy and shamelessly savage, Belshazzar’s Feast caused outrage back then, and it still knocks you backwards today! It’s a stunning showcase for the CBSO’s famous choruses; and John Storgårds gets things buzzing with two joyous choral classics by the composers behind West Side Story and The Planets. We think you’ll love them.

If you like this concert, you might also like:
Der Rosenkavalier, Saturday 24th May
Mozart’s C Minor Mass, Thursday 26th June
Bluebeard’s Castle, Wednesday 2nd July




Review by Diane Parkes, BehindTheArras:

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…     “Mark Stone sang the baritone role here, perfectly complementing the chorus and occasionally slowing down the action for a moment of reflection.

By its rousing Alleluias at the finale, there was no doubt that the chorus was thoroughly enjoying tackling the piece, which is not the easiest to carry off well.

There was also plenty of life in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. Ever the showman, Bernstein may have taken the words from the Biblical Psalms but at times the pieces sound more akin to a music hall show than a church.

The Lord is My Shepherd has plenty of moments of calm and was beautifully sung by Trinity Boys Choir member William Gardner. But Bernstein quickly introduces a riot of percussion so we can almost imagine the chorus taking to the stage to dance in a West Side Story like showstopper. It was also a great opportunity for the CBSO to get to grips with lots of fun and exuberant music.”     …



Review by Roderic Dunnett, MusicWeb, SeenandHeard:

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…     “When we get to Sitwell’s hymnic bit (‘God of Gold…God of Wood…God of Brass) – slightly improbable, but huge fun – we are saturated by a kind of corrupt Benedicite. Alto saxophone, bass clarinet, and contrabassoon get their look in; James Burke’s clarinet positively screeched with impropriety. Percussion snaps and blips, and clops from wood blocks, abound. A riot of (as the notes put it) ‘onomatopoeic’ colour. No wonder the Lord (Jahweh – on our side) took a dim view of it all.

The resplendent additional brass (Beecham’s idea: here two septets, I believe, arrayed along both sides, high up) that toasts Belshazzar’s bluffing celebrates God’s inevitable triumph. Weighed in the balance, the oriental despot meets his  sticky end (double basses, low woodwind, flibbertigibbet flutes and piccolo see him off with an almost Bartókian atonal savagery – shades of Bluebeard.)The full-blooded chorus remained splendid thereafter, though Walton doesn’t: the penultimate (or middle of ultimate) section sounds like the thinnest of note-spinning. Yet at ‘Then trumpeters and pipers are silent, and the harpers have ceased to harp…’ he redeems himself, writing for them an alluring sequence like some succulent church anthem by Leighton or Hewitt-Jones – or Walton himself (The Twelve).

The most relishable, perhaps thrilling achievement of Storgårds’ conducting of the Walton came at the culmination, where in the final build up or recap he has to maintain a firm four in a bar while the bravado chorus sings effectively in three. The result produces excitement of almost fugal intensity, without being remotely banal. As the composer pops in a few whole tone scales to underline their whooping, he must have been feeling pleased with himself; for we are treated to a distinct burst – a sneak preview – of his First Symphony (which he was poised to embark on). Either he thought it a jolly good idea, and reused it, or his symphonic notepad jottings were already getting crammed.”



Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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“It’s many, many years since it has been my privilege to hear a concert as joyous as this one: three works, all with a religious impulse, and each approached from a different direction.

Full marks all round, but primarily to Simon Halsey’s remarkable CBSO Chorus celebrating 40 years of existence, and delivering Gnostic mysticism, Old Testament blood and guts, and Hebrew fervour (in the original language).     […]

[…] Storgards drew a thrilling reading from all these forces, chorus projecting with their customary clarity of diction, orchestra taut and rhythmic, and baritone soloist Mark Stone the most authoritative I have ever heard him. For technical nerds such as me, his maintenance of pitch in the lengthy unaccompanied passages was exemplary. This was an exhilarating performance.”