This concert concluded with a performance that featured not only the Huddersfield Phil, but also the town’s Choral Society and contingents from two local brass bands. So it was a fine testimony to the district’s rich musical resources and the standards that can be achieved in ambitious repertoire.
Wisely, although the concert was relatively short in duration, there was no programme filler in the shape of an overture or whatever. The first half consisted of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite and the second was taken up with Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast for orchestra, choir, vocal soloist and added brass.
This is challenging music - for the conductor as much as the players. On the podium, Robert Guy was excellent, in full control of this 20th century music with its rhythmic variety, enormous dynamic range, unusual orchestrations and a need for absolute precision.
The orchestra, led by Emily Sherratt, responded well and in addition to some fine section and solo work – for example the prominent and demanding clarinet in the first half of the Stravinsky – there were some good sonorities from the strings, such as a sustained pianissimo tremolo in the later part of the work.
When he introduced the Walton, Robert Guy described it as “one of the most amazing pieces of music ever written.” Fortunately, he was able to preside over a performance that helped to justify the claim. The singers of the Huddersfield Choral Society joined the orchestra on stage and in the balconies at the town hall were contingents from the Elland Silver and the Hade Edge bands. Their contributions provided tremendous antiphonal effects and their accuracy was impressive too, considering their distance from the conductor.
The Choral Society seemed very comfortable with the demands of Belshazzar’s Feast and was especially dynamic, for example, when the tempo quickened and the intensity deepened in the “O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed” passage.
The Philharmonic rose to its challenges too and it is perhaps worth singling out the excellence of the percussion section, particularly good in the “Praise ye the God of Silver” sequence.
Most unusually Walton provides several completely unaccompanied passages for the solo singer. In Huddersfield, this was the baritone Stuart Orme and in his truly solo sequences he was able to demonstrate great clarity and intonation.