Review: A Feast of Chorus and Variations, Trianon Symphony Orchestra and Choir, Snape Maltings, September 17

A Feast of Chorus and Variations, performed by the Trianon Symphony Orchestra and Choir at Snape Mal

A Feast of Chorus and Variations, performed by the Trianon Symphony Orchestra and Choir at Snape Maltings on September 17. Photo: Geoff Rogers - Credit: Archant

Presenting a programme of works by Dvorak, Elgar and William Walton demands a big size and scale of venue.

Cue Snape Maltings Concert Hall, just the place with its huge stage enabling Trianon’s usual strength of musicians and choir to be swelled by some 70 additional guest performers for the night.

Watching them all enter the stage I thought they would never end. There were about 150 singers and 90 orchestral members plus local soloists Julie Roberts and Mark Saberton for Christopher Green to conduct; that man does love a challenge.

The first half got off to a rousing start with Dvorak’s Te Deum (Op.103). This is a splendid piece to uplift the spirits and set the tone for the dexterity of choral variety which would follow.

The orchestra and choir had just the right mix, keeping the tempo going in the background to allow both soloists to really excel and feature the strength of Saberton’s baritone with Roberts’ powerful yet blissful soprano voice, perfect for the celestial work. Wonderful stuff and deservedly well received by the audience.

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This was followed by Elgar’s Enigma Variations (Op.36) when the orchestra gave the choir a chance to rest and draw breath.

Led admirably as usual by Steve Browne, it was an assertive half hour of familiar Elgar. Watching the live performance it was noticeable how you pick up little nuances like the lingering G natural note linking the WN eighth variation into the Nimrod passage; I hadn’t noticed that before.

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The second half was Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast - a big dynamic beast, a behemoth of a dramatic cantata pushing the boundaries of voice and instrument. Think Star Wars and Indiana Jones theme music mixed with a bit of jazz influence and a touch of Wagnerian pedigree and you have the 1931 Walton composition all in one.

Varied tempos, beats and timings are demanding at the best of times, yet here are choirs and semi-chorus singing within the choir together telling of the fall of decadent Babylonian King Belshazzar with the narrative led by Saberton in commanding voice with splendid diction.

Put that to a continuous complex instrumental score with sudden stops and starts, irregular patterns and phrasing and seemingly intensity of action meaning no section of the orchestra is left out from having to do its part, which they did with distinction.

You can see why the composition needs an extra-sized complement of not for the faint-hearted amateur musicians to perform it. There was even an anvil being struck to signal Praise Ye the God of Iron.

It was magnificent and well deserving of the applause by an appreciative audience. It is not to everyone’s taste as a choral work but for the sheer thrill of hearing expansive music and watching the concentration of the musicians it takes some beating.

I gather that a young Benjamin Britten was at the 1931 London premiere: he would surely have approved.

Stuart Reid

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