Wednesday, May 25, 2011

All is well with Walton

Rembrandt's Belshazzar
Last night we had another rehearsal of Walton's Belshazzar's Feast, characterised by fierce concentration, hard work and moments of raucous hilarity - the rehearsal that is; not the Feast.

The story...

But first, for those who are not familiar with the work, you need to know that in the story of Belshazzar's Feast, the Jews are in exile in Babylon. After a feast at which Belshazzar, the Babylonian king, commits sacrilege by using the Jews' sacred vessels to praise the heathen gods, he is miraculously killed, the kingdom falls, and the Jews regain their freedom. Don't we all like a story with a happy ending? Yes!

The music...

The music throughout is strongly rhythmic and syncopated, and richly orchestrated. The rhythms and harmonies (often discords) reflect Walton’s interest in jazz and other popular music, pressed into service to tell a religious story. Despite its jagged rhythms and strident orchestral effects, the work is essentially conventional in its tonality (but not much so).

The tricky bits...

So, from time to time we hit a phrase with some rather tricky pitching or timing and choir director David Burchell, with the patience of Job, would guide each voice separately through the hairy patch, and then all together, until we "get it".

Here's the funny bit...

At one point, round about page 30 in the score, the text describes the wild partying and much drinking going on at the King of Babylon's feast and just before the bit about the drinking spree, we hit a snag. So David waved the magic baton (usually a pencil) and we went over and over those pesky notes... and suddenly David stopped us with "let's go back and do that again; once we're into the drink we're all right!". That brought the house down - you had to be there, but it was sooo funny!

And then Giles piped up with: "These guys must have been sloshed all the time!" More laughter. Yes, it seems they did a lot of drinking at this famous feast.

Again, from David when we "got" another tricky bit: "That's right, and if it sounds wrong, blame Walton".

Some of Walton's phrases in this work, taken out of context, can easily sound wrong, but put the whole lot together and it is a very powerful work. Walton is like an artist with a paint brush, colouring in the emotion of each scene - and he does it very well indeed.

All is well with Walton.

1 comment:

Rosi Crane said...

And Nigel asked if the music was published by Boosey & Hawkes. Tee hee hee , they are a very famour music publisher, but no this edition was published by Oxford.