Launching the London 2012 Festival ahead of the Olympics, the CBSO and its massed choral forces got the festivities off in fine style with the UK premiere of Jonathan Harvey’s massive ‘Weltethos’, first heard last year in Berlin, and with Thursday’s performance broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.
What a pity the BBC misspelt conductor Edward Gardner’s name in ‘Radio Times’, not the only evidence of shoddiness in Auntie’s preparation for this important event.
Never mind; the performance itself was stunning, Gardner and his movingly empathetic assistant conductor Michael Seal drawing an account of huge commitment, despite the paucity of reward for most involved.
The enthusiastic and so well-coached CBSO Youth Chorus and Children’s Chorus had the best of something well to get their teeth into, mantras about children’s hopes for the future. The parent CBSO Chorus fared less well, often required to mutter their lines (sometimes inexplicably in German for what is intended as a world-embracing piece), and with little to work the vocal cords into sustained athleticism.
Samuel West was the engaging Narrator, doing his best for the texts of Swiss theologian Hans Kung (no mention as to whether the English is original or in translation). The 80-minute work’s six sections are laid out each time in similar structures, with basically a potted history of Confucianism, followed by the Jewish, Hindu, Moslem, Buddhist and Christian religions. Its overwhelming point is the most important of all, the Golden Rule: “Love thy neighbour as thyself”. You can’t argue with that, but did we really need this rather datedly flower-power behemoth to get the message across?
So taken up was the ear by the texts that orchestral detail was often overlooked. Obviously there was a huge phalanx of percussion reflecting the overview of world religion (nothing from the Americas, though), and the use of such forces couldn’t help but bring Ravel (in eastern mode) and, especially, Messiaen’s unsurpassable ‘Turangalila-Symphonie’ to mind.