Monday, July 18, 2011

'Feast' takes ears by storm

Belshazzar's Feast
Dunedin Town Hall
Saturday, July 16

Belshazzar's Feast, the rather unique oratorio composed by English composer William Walton in 1930-31, was performed on Saturday evening in the town hall by Southern Sinfonia with City of Dunedin Choir, conducted by Dane Lam.

Lam has said that Belshazzar's Feast is "big and noisy" and he certainly pulled out all the stops to get the very best from his musicians, interpreting the pagan rituals, worship of false gods and triumphant partying that is all part of this work. The music's unpredictability surprises the listener throughout, with its underlying traces of jazz, heinous irregularity of beat and sudden eruptions of outrageous sound.

Certainly a rare experience to hear this work live. Well done to all, though at many times I longed for an extra 100 voices to "conquer" the Sinfonia, revelling in their rich jagged orchestration and strident outbursts.

Internationally acclaimed New Zealand bass/baritone Paul Whelan, in the role of narrator, advanced the sectional plots. His unaccompanied Babylon Was a Great City was a stupendous delivery, with fervent tone and pristine diction.

The concert's opening works were hugely contrasting.

There's nothing quite like a good strong overture to open an orchestral event, but instead we were given Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, a string work of peace and serenity, somewhat loosely presented, with many soft entries tentative rather than gentle.

Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring (1944) with its strains of American melodies and Shaker tunes, particularly Lord of the Dance, was well defined and an enjoyable lead-up to the main work, but it would have been such a bonus to have heard Whelan (1993 Cardiff Singer of the World) perform in the first half of the concert.

- Elizabeth Bouman
Source: ODT Mon, 18 Jul 2011

Feedback from the audience

The highlight, although not the best piece of music, came after the interval, and everyone ended the performance covered in glory. I've heard the choir sing ff, but last night you got to ffff with nary a trace of distortion. Everyone near where I was sitting was wrung out at the end of the concert. It was a wonderful evening. My only regret is that I shall never again be able to listen to several cherished CDs of "Belshazzar's Feast".
- a Friend

I heard from some in the audience not all related to me) and also orchestra members. They all said how much they enjoyed the performance and that the choir 'pulled it off'. The orchestra had been worried that we wouldn't put enough energy into it but they said we certainly did on the night. The audience also commented on the energy in the choir and that the Walton was the highlight of the concert.

I haven't done any singing for about 17-18 years but I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the choir and realised how much I missed it! I'm sorry, but I'll be back.
- Mary Jane Sneyd

My friend - who used my Sinfonia subscriber's pass as he thought the tickets were too expensive (cheapest upstairs was $52) was so thrilled, he said he was going home to listen to a recording of the piece again. Apparently once was not enough.

Another friend, a fellow chorister from another choir, and long-time CoDC watcher, said it was the best and most vigorous performance he could remember seeing from the City Choir in 10 years.

Several orchestra members commented that the choir seemed to improve with every one of the week's rehearsals so that, by the performance night, the choir was totally focussed and "amazing".
- Scott Blackwell

I was in the audience and felt that the choir sang very well. I was so excited and wanted to burst in with you several times. Your faces were very expressive and it was obvious that everyone really was fully engaged with both the conductor and the orchestra for the whole of the performance. Well done everyone.
- Judy Tucker

I was so glad to be in the audience on Saturday and not have to concentrate on finding the right notes! I had found the music very difficult to get used to and wasn’t able to be at enough practices. I fully expected to dislike Belshazzar’s Feast – noisy and full of discords, and was amazed to be bowled over by the exhuberance and electrifying effect of the live performance.

Where the orchestra was not in full throttle, the words came over very well, especially the men’s entry and practically everyone actually watched the conductor for the whole work. A larger soprano section would have been good. Well done, everyone, especially David.
- Stella Cullington

As I edged through the crowded Town Hall foyer after the concert, I heard a lady in front of me say to her neighbour: "That was magnificent."
- Helen Edwards

We love feedback

The Choir would love to hear from you if you were in the audience on Saturday. Please leave a comment here or email us at

Thank you for your support!

1 comment:

Lee said...

Hi all - I asked someone I know through certain music links in Dunedin to write an independent review of the concert for my blog, The Chorister.

The review is now up online (I think its an excellent, fair one), and can be read at the following link: Review of concert.