Leeds Town Hall, Sunday 21st October 2018:
A richly varied programme marked the centenary of the 1918 Armistice and the Airedale Symphony Orchestra’s own 120th anniversary. ASO conductor John Anderson opened with Sir Edward Elgar’s swaggering Cockaigne Overture ‘In London Town’. Subtle orchestral colours were illuminated in the final bars by the glorious sonorities of the Town Hall organ, played by Alan Horsey.
Elgar conducted the premiere of his choral and orchestral elegy The Spirit of England in Leeds Town Hall on 3rd May 1916. Laurence Binyon’s poems had inspired the composer to some of his loveliest vocal and instrumental writing. Soprano Sarah Power and Leeds Philharmonic Chorus eloquently expressed Binyon’s immortal lines, and John Anderson’s finely balanced reading captured the work’s ebb and flow. In the final section, For the Fallen, the music built up to a great climax before gently fading into infinity – “…As the stars that are starry at the time of our darkness, to the end, to the end they remain.”
The second half opened with a centenary tribute to the RAF: Anderson and the ASO ensured that the big tunes in Sir William Walton’s stirring Spitfire Prelude and Fugue emerged in luxuriant technicolour. Next, the superbly blended voices floated the Lux aeterna around the auditorium to profoundly moving effect. This is John Cameron’s achingly beautiful transcription for unaccompanied chorus of Elgar’s Nimrod variation.
The ASO then performed John Williams’ Hymn For the Fallen from his score for Steven Spielberg’s 1998 film Saving Private Ryan. A disarmingly simple melody, austere trumpets, a solo drum cadence and an angelic chorus raised the music to the heights.
Joseph Judge, the new Leeds Philharmonic Chorus Master, conducted the unaccompanied voices in Eric Whitacre’s emotive choral miniature Sleep; the lyrics are by Charles Anthony Silvestri. Joseph’s expressive hands sculpted the phrasing and dynamics from a powerful climax down to a pianissimo whisper.
John Anderson returned to the podium to preside over the grand finale. The refulgent performance of Va Pensiero (Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves) from Verdi’s Nabucco was encored, this time with the audience encouraged to hum in unison. So to the ‘big’ ending: Tchaikovsky’s monumental 1812 Overture was performed with the rarely heard choral embellishments valiantly sung in Russian. There was, of course, a battery of percussion, chiming bells, brass fanfares, the mighty Town Hall organ and thunderous volleys of cannon fire. The warm and responsive audience loved every note.