It’s many, many years since it has been my privilege to hear a concert as joyous as this one: three works, all with a religious impulse, and each approached from a different direction.
Full marks all round, but primarily to Simon Halsey’s remarkable CBSO Chorus celebrating 40 years of existence, and delivering Gnostic mysticism, Old Testament blood and guts, and Hebrew fervour (in the original language).
The latter was in Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, given here with so much engagement and commitment from chorus and orchestra (eight percussionists jazzing up proceedings), and the wonderfully assured boy soprano William Gardner, whose name was disgracefully omitted from the printed programme.
And conducting was John Storgards, batonless as befits the English cathedral tradition, and showing how selflessly a Scandinavian can immerse himself into such material.
Storgards certainly had the measure of Holst’s almost narcotic Hymn of Jesus with its blend of ancient plainchant and stamping dionysiac rhythms, CBSO Chorus and orchestra here joined by the ethereal voices of the CBSO Youth Chorus.
The trombone intonations which launched the Holst were again in evidence for the opening of Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, this amazing oratorio which might almost have been composed for Symphony Hall, with its stereophonic brass bands, roaring organ (not least the pedals), huge orchestra, and equally huge choir.
Storgards drew a thrilling reading from all these forces, chorus projecting with their customary clarity of diction, orchestra taut and rhythmic, and baritone soloist Mark Stone the most authoritative I have ever heard him. For technical nerds such as me, his maintenance of pitch in the lengthy unaccompanied passages was exemplary. This was an exhilarating performance.