Opera Scotland

Belshazzar's Feast 2019Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Read more about the opera Belshazzar's Feast

The 2018/19 season was Thomas Søndergård's first as Music Director of the RSNO, and this final concert was a fitting climax. If anyone had been expecting to detect hints of fatigue or lack of concentration among the players, they were very much mistaken. Successful tours to China and the USA had clearly left the players keen for more. Everything sounded absolutely fresh and on top form. All three works in the programme were from the early decades of the twentieth century. Two of them, completely contrasting in style, were derived from the exotic biblical theme of Belshazzar and the writing on the wall.

The centrepiece was a work of equal seriousness, in Elgar's Cello Concerto with soloist Truls Mørk, who last appeared with the RSNO when he played the Dvořák concerto in 2013. The mood of Elgar's glorious late masterpiece is one of almost unrelieved gloom, encompassing several ideas, particularly the death of his wife as he worked on it in 1919, and the realisation that his music was now unfashionably melodic and out of tune with the times. This performance projected an unusually fierce sense of anger in the orchestral attack, with an almost manic display from the soloist. The melancholy autumnal atmosphere so often heard seemed a long way off. A superb projection of late Elgar at his new-minted best.

The concert had begun with a complete novelty in a suite of four short movements extracted by Sibelius from his Incidental Music for a 1906 play, Belshazzar's Feast. The soundworld is clearly that of the composer, yet it is all very quiet and restrained, even delicate, with beautifully subtle woodwind textures. There is an unmistakable middle eastern soundworld, opening with a restrained march and ending with a beguiling waltz. The contrast with Walton's interpretation of the subject, composed 25 years later, could hardly have been greater.

The Walton cantata is an astonishing work that still seems completely fresh nearly ninety years after its premiere. In Glasgow the two brass bands were effectively placed high up on either side of the main orchestra, with their outbursts at the climax resounding back and forward. The conductor, Thomas Søndergård projected a wonderful sense of attack so that the stabbing chords heard repeatedly from chorus, orchestra, or bands projected with savage immediacy. Young American baritone Anthony Clark Evans made a positive impression at the last Cardiff Singer of the World competition, and projected his solos with trenchant authority. It is good to know that the orchestra will be continuing to produce concerts containing repertoire as enjoyable as this next season, including the Verdi Requiem and Mahler Song of the Earth.

Performance Cast

Baritone

Anthony Clark Evans

Performance DatesBelshazzar's Feast 2019

Map List

Usher Hall | Edinburgh

31 May, 19.30

Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow | Glasgow

1 Jun, 19.30

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