Press review

Leeds Town Hall, 30th May 2015

As the ‘finale’ concert to the wonderful Leeds International Orchestral Season, there is a sense of celebration and flourish.

As the conductor and the eminent Peter Donohoe, after a sumptuous performance of Ravel’s Piano Concerto, sit down together to play the original piano duet version of Ravel’s Ma Mere L’Oye, there is a feeling of friends enjoying a party piece. All the more so as Simon Wright has become a long standing and much loved local musician, and who conducts the whole proceedings with flair and competency.

The two choirs have had a resoundingly good season. The power, precision, and panache with which they delivered the much loved Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast was a sheer delight. The choirs seem to be on as good a form as ever, enjoying their singing and music making. Join one if you can sing!

Berlioz Benvenuto Cellini, as an opener, uses the large orchestral forces with aplomb, and gives a suitably popular flourish to set the tone.

But as we settle into the jazz idioms of the Ravel Piano Concerto in G, we are in a completely different idiom. The piano glissandi, the delicate and beautifully judged orchestration seemingly gliding us across the 1930’s dance-floor, the humour of the brass ‘portamenti’, and the achingly enjoyable harmonic dissonances that evoke the ‘blues’ sets the audience in a place of relaxation and smiles.

As if to say, ‘we know you’ve heard it before, but it’s worth it’ – next up is Ravel’s ‘Bolero’. The tour-de-force of the side-drum, the simplicity of the repeated but beautiful melodic curve, and the mastery of how the orchestra builds a single crescendo over the fifteen minutes or so; the piece is formulated on Spanish flamenco that has the ‘duende’ climax as its core ingredient, and never fails to delight.

A final word about Belshazzar’s Feast. It is eminently dramatic as it explores the demise of a Babylonian people intent on mocking the Hebrews and defiantly worshipping their own idolatrous ‘gods’. The terrifying intervention of God Jehovah and the ensuing overthrow of Belshazzar and his kingdom is magnificently evoked in Walton’s music with both orchestral and vocal power.

David Wilson-Johnson though retired from the opera-house is still a master of the concert hall, especially in the dramatic way that he can change the tone of his voice and punctuate the text.

The rhythmic, percussive and exultant shouts of victory that conclude the piece ring in the ears of the concert goers as they make their final exit – and they keenly anticipate next October.

Conductor: Simon Wright
Piano: Peter Donohoe
Baritone: David Wilson-Johnson

David Gann

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