Philharmonia Orchestra & Brighton Festival Chorus, Ilan Volkov (conductor)

What a triumph! The closing Classical concert of the Brighton Festival 2022 was a glorious celebration of the sea.

A deep, discordant rumble from the double-basses, lower brass and tam-tam opened Kaija Saariaho’s seven-sectioned tone poem ‘Oltra Mar’. It was unmistakably the sound of the sea. The chorus was soon providing the hiss of waves receding back from the beach. Perhaps we could hear gulls or wind in the rigging, for there was plenty of sound, mostly in repetitious pulses. French verses were chanted, often in rhythmical fragments. Sometimes the voices were required to sing in semi-tones away from the strings. Only an excellent chorus could attempt this but I wonder if it was worth the effort. Ilan Volkov regulated the dynamic surges most elegantly. In the height of the clamour, frenzied arpeggios from a rogue piccolo and a manic glockenspiel gave the impression of firecrackers or distress flares. Any tunes they played lacked memorable melody but the general effect evoked the credible soundscape of an unpredictable sea.

Vaughan Williams ‘A Sea Symphony’ is altogether a more substantial work. Brighton Festival Chorus burst into life, relishing their big tunes. From the arresting opening statement through to the ultimate super-quiet resolution, this well-drilled ensemble was on top form. So too was the Philharmonia Orchestra, shoe-horned on to the platform, creating very musical waves of sound. In front of all this were the two soloists. The Dome acoustics were not in their favour but from my seat in the stalls I could hear every word of Walt Whitman’s enigmatic poetry.

Duncan Rock

Duncan Rock

An interesting feature was baritone Duncan Rock turning to face the chorus when it was answering his statements. This simple move intensified the drama. Gweneth-Ann Rand’s rich soprano easily filled the Dome and her high notes, whether loud or soft, were thrilling, especially in the final ecstatic pages of this magnificent masterpiece.

Dome Concert Hall,
29 May 2022
Rating: ★★★★½
Andrew Connal

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