Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

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William WALTON (1902-1983)
Belshazzar's Feast (1931) [34.13]
Crown Imperial (1937) [6.45]
Orb and Sceptre (1953) [7.20]
Christopher Purves (bar)
Simon Lindley (organ)
Huddersfield Choral Society; Leeds Philharmonic Chorus; Laudibus
English Northern Philharmonia/Paul Daniel
rec. Town Hall, Leeds, 30 June - 1 July 2001, 7 July, 25 Oct 1996.
NAXOS 8.555869 [48.17]

 

This is not the world-beating version of Belshazzar I had hoped although it has sterling qualities which make it enjoyable on its own terms.

The competition is withering for Belshazzar even if much of it dates back to ‘antiquity’ - OK the 1970s and 1980s. Good points for the Naxos version include an epic scale to the massed choral sound. Of course Leeds and Huddersfield have long and exalted singing traditions and those traditions are sustained here in the fulsomely glowing tone and alto-baritonal attack. There is a lustrous glow around the singing billowing up into the vaulted spaces of Leeds Town Hall.

The most exciting singing comes in tr. 3, Babylon was a great city, with its monumental and gorgeously dressed paeans and dizzying terraces of sound. Walton struggled, not completely successfully, with the problem of topping the praising of the pagan gods and saving something for the exultation of the triumphant Hebrews. Let's not worry too much about that because in this area everyone is at full stretch and the engineers capture a great deal of detail amid the glorious mêlée. The iron anvil strokes clang out resolutely - all red glowing metal and machismo. The Northern ‘bloodline’ continues in the vivacity, blast and sheer 'grunt' of the ENP's augmented brass which the balance, rather courageously, favours. The final 'praise ye' in tr. 4 (4.47) raises a real frisson. The attack of the shouted 'slain' has unanimity and impact as does the abandon of the final 'Then sing aloud to God'. This also, for the first time, brought out for me the fifing accompanimental woodwind figures not previously noticed in other recordings.

Christopher Purves is as clear as a bell but I missed the attack and grit of David Wilson-Johnson (Hickox) and John Shirley-Quirk (Previn).

Make no mistake this is a good version of Belshazzar but it does not rate a ‘Hall of Fame’ recommendation. It lacks the outright convulsive immediacy and eager, sharply etched definition of the Previn, the Willcocks and the Hickox versions; especially the Previn and the Willcocks. My surprise alternative recommendation is the not unblemished Ormandy on Sony. It is long in the tooth now but is still taut and hungry even beside the composer’s various version; now if only Ormandy had had a more weightily-toned choir and less dated state-of-the-art engineering he might have swept the board.

The ‘fillers’ only take the disc to 48.11 which, even in super-bargain terms, seems a mite stingy. Such a pity that Naxos had not added the Gloria and the Te Deum. In any event the two marches are done with crackling style ... and that golden blare of the French horns in Crown Imperial at 1.40 is ‘wow quotient’ material. The recording still fails to report as much detail and achieve the delicious transparency and awe-inspiring bass response of EMI Classics’ recording of Frémaux in the two marches with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. It is still the Frémaux that I would recommend (and with him you get similarly wonderful versions of the Te Deum and Gloria into the bargain); well nigh perfect I would have said.

Such a pity that Walton never completed (or started) the third British coronation march. Wasn’t it to have been called ‘Bed Majesticall’ (to complete the Shakespeare Henry V, Act IV sc. 1 triptych) reserved for King Charles III or is that just too fanciful? On the other hand perhaps OUP have it under the strictest lock and key only to release it at the time of the next Coronation ... if ever and whenever that may be. If your taste for such marches remains unappeased then I recommend you try Howard Ferguson's Overture for an Occasion and better yet the wonderful yet still neglected overture Mancunians by Britain's forgotten master symphonist, Arthur Butterworth.

The sung words are printed in full by Naxos and there are very good notes by Jeremy Backhouse.

The ENPO are an exciting orchestra. I well remember attending during 1999 a concert in Oldham (Walton’s birthplace) in which they most imposingly and excitingly performed the Symphony No. 1. Most unusually this was partnered with a series of tableaux from Troilus and Cressida.

These are, not surprisingly, dashing and eminently enjoyable performances. If not the last word they are certainly virtuosic interpretations and brilliant recordings with, in the case of Belshazzar, the Northern British choral and brass traditions standing resplendent.

Rob Barnett



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