Leeds Town Hall, 29th February 2020:
This delightful and entertaining concert at Leeds Town Hall begins with Kern’s lively Overture for Showboat. It skilfully takes the themes of the show (largely romantic) and threads them in an alluring medley. Already the Airedale Symphony Orchestra are proving their high status. This is followed by another Showboat excerpt, namely Ol’ Man River featuring baritone Neil Balfour and the Leeds Philharmonic Chorus. While this is a splendid start, Balfour’s vocals do not manage to shine out above the orchestra as they clearly should.
The full chorus and orchestra really pull all their weight for Aaron Copeland’s The Promise of Livingfrom the 1954 opera The Tender Land. For this the chorus really shine brightly and carry the uplifting themes exquisitely. But for me the highlight of the show has to be Agnus Dei, the choral adaptation of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Rarely performed in this form Leeds Phil really prove their worth with exquisite and exacting tone and pitch.
Then just when you think that the mood cannot get any higher on comes soprano Sarah Power. She is simply gorgeous with the soaring notes of Korngold’s Marietta’s Aria (from Die tote Stadt) held perfectly. The Chorus continue the beatific mood with Randall Thompson’s Choose something like a Star which is a poetic masterpiece.
A more sustained piece comes in the form of Gershwin’s wonderful An American in Paris. It comes replete with three saxophonists, solo trumpet and, yes, four car horns! It has a metropolitan feel throughout and can be tempestuous with pounding percussion, or softer with sublime strings. The multiple false endings really keeps the audience on their toes. And the end of the first half is Bernstein’s witty Make our Garden grow from Candide.
After the interval we have another Broadway smash, the Suite from South Pacific which the orchestra perform with great confidence and aplomb. But the real meat of the evening comes in the form of Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess in an arrangement by Robert Russell. Power belts out a sonorous Summertime with exquisite beauty, we are really hanging in her every word and blends perfectly with the orchestra.
Despite my earlier reservations about Balfour one has to admit his voice is a treasure, just not suited to the role. Leeds Phil really excel themselves in the second half with the ability to be both boldly brash and subtly subdued. There are just so many fabulous numbers we are really spoiled for choice to name the concert version’s peak. But I will plump for It ain’t necessarily so for the highlight, as much for its irreverent lyrics as the catchy tune.
A final note must go to the mastery of conductor John Anderson with a match made in heaven between Airedale Symphony Orchestra and Leeds Philharmonic Chorus that is simply a very fine feast for the ears.