Sometimes it needs the freshness of young people to revitalise our perceptions of well-loved pieces of music which have lived long in the memory.
Certainly Walton’s pithy oratorio Belshazzar’s Feast has lived with me, both in the mind’s ear and through many performances, ever since I first fell in love with it nearly fifty years ago, when it was still practically contemporary music.
But Friday’s account from Birmingham Conservatoire students brought it up shiny, new and immediate in an exhilarating reading under the wise, economical and empowering conducting of Elgar Howarth.
Considered almost impossible at the work’s premiere in 1931, the gripping choral writing was here delivered with tremendous immediacy and projection by these well-trained youthful voices, orchestral playing (including the two offstage brass bands) was biting and deftly rhythmic.
And particularly heartening was the solo baritone contribution of Jing Ming Guo. Singing in a language obviously not his own, his delivery of his portentous lines was the most accurate, pitch-wise, that I have ever heard and his engagement was total.
Equally refreshing was the ballet music from Holst’s Perfect Fool, given with an awareness of both its elemental energy and transcendent beauty. Howarth’s own A Menagerie for the Reverend John Beauchamp for chorus and brass quartet breathed a charm in performance which matched the music.