Belshazzar’s Feast – James Rutherford (baritone), Richard Armstrong (conductor)

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra began the Festival 2018 finale with Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from ‘Peter Grimes’. These served as an overture for the whole concert, its lyrical sections matching the concerto item, Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending (concert-master Duncan Riddell as a very fine soloist), and the storm sequence anticipating the stupendous climax of the Festival programme, the 50th anniversary of Brighton Festival Chorus’ very first concert: Sir William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, conducted by the composer himself, 27th April 1968.

The buzz of that event is still with me, the electric atmosphere of such an excited crowd, the large orchestra, the two brass bands, Sir William himself all musical authority and patrician charm, Lady Walton struggling to see that he didn’t overdo it.

She failed. The concert nearly overwhelmed him and it certainly left me, an eager schoolboy, quite exhausted.

This time, in the reconditioned Dome, now acoustically enhanced, the sound was even more exciting. This performance was so vivid, the magisterial orchestral playing and the brilliance of all that brass, James Rutherford’s dramatic delivery, both imperiously loud and truly menacing when quiet, and the clarity of the chorus singing. I could hear every word and the meticulous attention to dynamics, especially the subito piano moments, was particularly impressive.

50 years on those few founder-members still singing in the chorus can be very pleased and proud of the well established institution they have nurtured so carefully to deliver what was possibly an even better performance than old Sir William’s.

Brighton Dome Concert Hall, 27 May 2018
Rating: ★★★★★
Andrew Connal

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