As oratorios go, you couldn’t call Belshazzar’s Feast devotional. When William Walton wrote it in the early 1930s, his intention was not to produce a work of piety but a Cecil B DeMille spectacular. And it remains so, working best in a big space where its massed forces (with two separate brass bands alongside an already swollen orchestra and chorus) can spread out and make a joyful noise. The Albert Hall serves perfectly, and last week’s Proms performance by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra and National Youth Choir of Great Britain was indeed a joy: exuberant, fresh, with a foot-tapping rhythmic energy under conductor Kirill Karabits.
His tempi were too fast for music that demands indulgence, and the BSO had problems keeping up; but never mind, it was exciting. As was a still-more extravagant cantata on the bill: Prokofiev’s epic Seven, They Are Seven, a barbaric blast of Soviet neurosis. It lasts only a few minutes, but requiring such an army of performers you can understand why it’s so rarely heard.
As a composer whose meticulous, craft-conscious care restricts his output, Brian Elias doesn’t get too many hearings either. So his new Cello Concerto, premiered at the Proms last week, was an event – and doubly so in that it happened amid crisis. Written for the cellist Natalie Clein more than a year ago, it had been waiting with her all this time to be unveiled. But then, with just a week to go, Clein fell ill and was taken into hospital. Another cellist, Leonard Elschenbroich, was drafted in to learn the music fast, and he delivered an entirely creditable, lucid and coherent reading of a finely nuanced score. But as an introspective piece that doesn’t shout its merits, the concerto needed more: a bigger personality who had the notes more confidently in his fingers.
The conductor Ryan Wigglesworth – a rising star on the contemporary music circuit and technically astute – got excellent results out of the orchestra. It worked. But with a sense that there was more to say about this music than we got.
West Green House Opera in Hook, Hampshire. is a country house opera where the real show is the gardens (nothing that you find at Glyndebourne, Garsington or Grange Park can compete) and they upstaged a new production there of Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail. It was trying so hard to be stylish it forgot how to be interesting. Or funny.
But it had an interesting conductor in the 24-year-old Oliver Zeffman, who is young but very competent, in cool control of what he does. If anything he’s too cool; the severity is limiting. But I suspect there’s passion in his soul: it only needs encouragement.
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