A William Walton Extravaganza

This weekend will see a fabulous festival of music sweeping out across the marshes at Snape.

Andrew Clarke

By Andrew Clarke, Arts Editor

This weekend will see a fabulous festival of music sweeping out across the marshes at Snape. The Aldeburgh Music Club will be staging an epic William Walton Weekend which will find Walton's masterwork, Belshazzar's Feast, forming the centrepiece of the celebrations.

A huge effort is going into staging a full scale performance of Walton's oratorio Belshazzar's Feast - it's a mighty choral and orchestral work - which will be mounted at Snape Maltings Concert Hall on Saturday November 28. The performance is going to bring together The Prometheus Orchestra, a combined choir of 150 local singers and two brass bands. The concert will feature 70 players and baritone Jeremy Huw Williams.


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This is the most ambitious project ever attempted by the Aldeburgh Music Club since it was founded by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears in 1952. The performance will feature the AMC choir and the Phoenix Singers from Framlingham, as well as the Prometheus Singers, especially formed for this occasion.

The orchestra comes complete with two brass bands and a massive display of percussion instruments to jazz up the orgiastic feast of the Babylonians before the writing on the wall appears. The popular Welsh baritone, Jeremy Huw Williams takes the dramatic role. Conducting will be Edmond Fivet, who has been hard at work since the summer rehearsing the various sections of the vast musical ensemble.

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He said: “Walton's oratorio is reckoned to provide the greatest challenge and thrill of all 20th century works for choir and orchestra.”

In addition to the main centrepiece performance, Edmond's Prometheus Orchestra will play Walton's Crown Imperial and Berners' seldom heard Three Orchestral Pieces while two short but engaging choral works, Parry's I Was Glad and Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music, will complete the programme.

On the following morning, Sunday November 29 at Aldeburgh Cinema Humphrey Burton will be taking audiences Behind the Fa�ade with a light-hearted exploration of other Walton compositions, including scenes from his Shakespeare films Henry V and Hamlet.

Humphrey Burton, who now lives in Aldeburgh is a former BBC executive, film director and Walton's biographer. He will be examining Walton's life and career using extracts from a number of Omnibus documentaries. There will be live performances of songs and poems from his witty entertainment Fa�ade and piano duet music by the wealthy and eccentric Lord Berners, to whom Walton dedicated Belshazzar.

Performers include the former English National Opera soprano Claire Weston, pianists Jonathan Rutherford, Peter Dickinson and Humphrey Burton, and speaker Christopher Bishop. The Duets for Children will be played by Maisie Holbert from Thomas Mills High School and Laurence Brimson from Woodbridge School.

Humphrey said: “I wrote a biography of Walton a few years ago. I worked with him several times and will be introducing the concert.”

He said that having Edmond Fivet on board was a huge thrill for the Aldeburgh Music Club. “Edmond was, for 17 years, principal of the Royal Welsh Conservatoire in Cardiff. For this weekend, he has recruited a large orchestra - probably the biggest band every seen on a Suffolk concert platform. The score calls for two additional groups of brass - trumpets and trombones - and a vast array of percussion. They make a spectacular sight. I know the piece well myself, having directed several television performances. The sound raises the roof!”

He said that on Sunday morning he will be leading a light-hearted exploration of other Walton pieces including his films - Henry V, Hamlet etc, and his documentaries plus live performances of numbers from Fa�ade.

“There's a reasonable amount of gossip about Walton and Britten and their not always friendly rivalry - though Walton did often stay with Britten and wrote several works specifically for the Aldeburgh Festival. It should be a lively session.”

Finally, at 3.30 pm on Sunday afternoon, the Emperor Quartet will be playing Walton's two string quartets in Aldeburgh Church. Composed a quarter century apart, Walton's first String Quartet was penned in 1922 while the later work didn't arrive until 1947, the two works represent the essence of Walton's romantic, lyrical style and some of his most profound musical thinking. The Emperor Quartet was nominated for a Grammy Award for its recent recording of these lovely works, which they will introduce from the platform.

This concert will be performed at St Peter and St Paul Church in Aldeburgh and not at the Jubilee Hall, as was originally advertised.

Walton's oratorio Belshazzar's Feast is at Snape Maltings Concert Hall on Saturday November 28 at 7.30pm, Humphrey Burton's Behind the Fa�ade is at Aldeburgh Cinema on Sunday November 29 at 11am and The Emperor Quartet is playing at St Peter and St Paul Church, Aldeburgh at 3pm.

Tickets for all three events are available from Aldeburgh Box Office Tel 01728 687110. Ticket prices �10, �12, �16 and �20.

For young people up to 22 years of age attending either event on Sunday, tickets are free.

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