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MFC: Belshazzar’s Feast by William Walton
Walton – Belshazzar’s Feast
Verdi – Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Nabucco
Knight – Immortality (first performance)
Knight – Ebb (an operatic study)
Elgar – Pomp and Circumstance March no. 5
Malvern Festival Chorus is rounding off its 2016-17 “feast-themed” season with a performance of William Walton’s powerful Belshazzar’s Feast. The concert also includes a new departure for the choir, a performance of Worcestershire composer Richard Knight’s brand new opera “Ebb”, together with the world premiere of his “Immortality”, a choral prologue to the opera specially written for this concert. These two works both travel from darkness to light; in the case of Ebb, the process is internal and introspective, with Belshazzar’s Feast, the journey is outward and extrovert, but in both cases the experience is portrayed with intensity.
The programme opens with Verdi’s much-loved Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from his opera “Nabucco” and bringing the first half of the concert to a close will be Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance No 5, his last complete Pomp and Circumstance March written in 1930 shortly after moving into his final house, Marl Bank, on Worcester’s Rainbow Hill.
First performed at the Leeds Festival in 1931, Belshazzar’s Feast has remained one of Walton’s most celebrated compositions and was regarded by conductor Herbert von Karajan as the greatest choral work of the first half of the 20th century. Based on the Old Testament story, the lavishly orchestrated oratorio progresses from the heart-rending lament of the Jews exiled in Babylon, through the rowdy festivities of King Belshazzar’s extravagant feast, to the drama of the mysterious writing-on-the-wall, culminating in his sudden death and the exuberant rejoicing of the freed slaves. The soloist is Stewart Kempster who has appeared with, among other notable companies, Scottish Opera and Wexford Festival Opera. Walton’s vibrant orchestration is performed by the professional musicians of Cheltenham Regency Sinfonia.
By contrast, Immortality and Ebb attempt to explore issues of life and death, science and religion. The music moves from tragedy to acceptance, trauma to tranquillity. Soloist Stewart Kempster is joined by Alexandra Tiffin who has also worked with Scottish Opera as well as English National Opera, Welsh National Opera, Opera North. Unusually for a work of this kind, it also contains a speaking role. The composer and musical director of Malvern Festival Chorus, Richard Knight has written four operas as well as a wide range of choral and orchestral pieces. His music has been performed nationally and internationally.
Malvern Festival Chorus receives financial assistance from The Elmley Foundation