Leeds Town Hall, Saturday 25th May 2013:
20th Century American music made for a refreshing finale to Leeds International Orchestral Season. It was a pity though that John Adams’ Harmonium had to be dropped from the programme, for technical reasons. That left the 200 choristers assembled behind the Hallé Orchestra with just one work lasting less than twenty minutes; and what an extraordinarily beautiful one. Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms were composed fifty years ago for the combined cathedral choirs of Chichester, Winchester and Salisbury.
The composer’s preference was for all-male voices – as deployed for the 1965 Chichester Cathedral premiere. It is difficult to imagine that Bernstein would not have been delighted with the supple phrasing and rich tonal colours of the Leeds choirs, together with the luminous playing of the Halle. The Leeds Festival and Philharmonic Choruses projected the Hebrew text with clarity and startling dynamic contrast under the baton of David Hill. Boy soprano Joseph McDermott was the plaintive and pure-toned soloist in the recitative-aria section of Psalm 23.
Hill and the Hallé had a whale of a time with Copland’s Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo, Bernstein’s sparkling Candide Overture, and his percussive, bittersweet Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. The two opening items created striking textural contrasts – the awesome percussion and brass in Copland’s stupendous Fanfare for the Common Man, followed by the austere solemnity of Barber’s famous Adagio for Strings.