Presented by: Orchestra Wellington
Conducted by: Marc Taddei
Michael Fowler Centre, 5th Aug 2023
Reviewed by: Dawn Brook
Three varied and striking 20th century works, early compositions by young Englishmen, featured in this concert. As conductor Marc Taddei pointed out, they were a riposte to the recent, wonderful all-German concert.
A prophecy forecasting his death was delivered to Belshazzar, the king of Babylon, after blaspheming against the God of Israel. The narrative of William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast was unfolded by Orchestra Wellington, a 28-strong Wellington Brass Band, the Orpheus Choir, and baritone soloist Benson Wilson. It was a dramatic, fast-moving, and very loud tale that kept the audience rapt. The stars, I thought, were the choir. Whether singing over the top of large instrumental resources, or unaccompanied, they negotiated tricky harmonies and a range of dynamics with assurance and sensitivity. The well-prepared brass band added colour and depth. Wilson’s voice is smooth and rich but a bit lacking in drama, perhaps, for the part.
The grief of a passionate pacifist in the face of WWII is the essential quality of Benjamin Britten’s Violin Concerto. The solo part is fiendishly difficult in speed, dynamics, and fingering and bowing techniques. This is an austerely beautiful work. Both orchestra and soloist Amalia Hall delivered technically, musically, and emotionally.
Thomas Adès’ first orchestral work …but all shall be well is a curious work exploring meandering musical lines within a somewhat fuzzy and subtle soundscape without significant climaxes. It is just as well that it opened the programme, or it might have been overwhelmed by the power of the other works.
Briar Prastiti, a young woman of mixed Kiwi and Greek heritage, was commissioned to write a work for Orchestra Wellington. Ákri is an exciting debut orchestral work that conveys the dilemmas of being on the edge (ákri) of two cultures. It is all of sweet, moody, bold, delicate, soaring, and dramatic. Congratulations to Orchestra Wellington for their initiative, and for another compelling performance.