Along with Britten's War Requiem, this work was written for the
consecration of Coventry Cathedral in 1962. As Simon Lindley's informative
notes tell us, it is built around a series of Old Testament stories including
The Burning Fiery Furnace, Belshazzar's Feast, The Lion's Den and Susannah
and the Elders, set against a musical backcloth of choral and organ music.
Bearing in mind even such fine works as Honegger's King David I must
confess to doubts about recorded narration. Live performance, yes. But what
about the verbal repeats in the living-room? I can only say that after three
or four playings Daniel still grips my attention. It is a wonderful
amalgam of well chosen texts, with appropriate and enhancing music, in a
relationship that offers continual stimulation. A highlight for example is
the appearance of Dr. Jackson's well-loved setting of the Benedicite. This
occurs at the place where the Greek version of the Book of Daniel inserts
that very canticle "The Song of the Three Young Men" who have been delivered
from the furnace. The theme is used, not in choral form, but as organ music
in a lyrical outpouring wholly appropriate to the Psalm 148-derived text.
Benedicite becomes a musical benediction. Just one example from a score that
is throughout consistently fresh and inventive.
The well-trained choir interpolates narrative reflections, written by John
Stuart Anderson, which at times attain an almost Eliot-like splendour through
their restraint "The Spirit of God, ascending still through desolation, pierces
the darkness to live." Vocal textures are spare as befits their complementary
role in the drama, though at least one might serve as a liturgical introit
in its own right, "Rejoice....let us be glad and worthy to stand in His house".
The choir deliver these pieces in natural style without 'making a meal of
Belshazzar's Feast has a built-in vocal counterpoint for those of
us who have played Walton's writing on the wall into the mat with a stylus.
But such is the momentum of "Daniel" that I was deflected only briefly. Mr
Anderson holds his listeners with a telling variety of delivery, modulating
from a newscaster's matter-of-fact reporting to a Gielgud cadenza with
The ending is visionary, with perhaps just a glance towards the cinema. And
why not? The film industry has had its successes with biblical stories.
Despotism, consumerism and corruption are still contemporary. This imaginative
work, so well performed and recorded brings these old tales vividly to life.
The score has just been published by Banks.