I rushed to this concert from a trip out to the eastern suburbs to interview a witness. For the first time, I took the tunnel from Rushcutters Bay to the State Library. In the taxi, it was worth it.
The program was:
WALTON Belshazzar’s Feast
Vladimir Ashkenazy conductor
Peter Coleman-Wright baritone
Sydney Philharmonia Choirs
I see that (rather weirdly) Philip Scott gave the pre-concert talk.
I took the taxi because I was late. I heard the end of Kakadu from the foyer.
Andrew Ford acts as the “presenter” at this series. I almost never enjoy speeches at concerts, but I find myself quite enjoying his contribution. He straddles an adult-adolescent divide rather in the way that The Simpsons or Shrek manage to appeal to adults and children: there are jokes just for the adults, and usually a bit of worldly-but-mild smut thrown in to get the teenagers interested. This time we learnt that Bax wrote Tintagel while in Cornwall for a six-week “dirty weekend.”
The Bax is a rarety and to tell the truth it was more interesting for that reason than for its musical qualities, which anticipate twenty years of English B-feature film scores. Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast was very much the main attraction of the program. This is sometimes spoken of as the culmination of the English oratorio tradition, even though it effectively left that tradition with almost nowhere else to go. It must be one of the noisiest pieces in the (classical) concert repertoire and possibly one of the silliest. Ford tried to draw some serious analogies between Babylon, its wealth and decadence and desecration of the golden vessels from the temple at Jerusalem and Britain in the thirties going off the gold standard or our present global financial crisis. It’s an amusing thought but I’m not sure how far it stands up to scrutiny.
It’s too long ago now for me to give a fair critical account of the performance, other than to say in general terms that it was pretty stupendous and to recall that Peter Coleman-Wright’s diction was particularly good and the choir’s not bad.