The Chichester Singers and Guildford Choral Society

Guildford Cathedral – 16thJune 2018

Perform Walton’s cantata Belshazzar’s Feast in Guildford Cathedral? Sixty years or so ago the idea would have seemed preposterous. Quite apart from the fact that Guildford Cathedral was not yet complete, a performance of the work in any cathedral was considered unsuitable by no less august a body than the Church of England.

And could the elaborate score stand the resonant acoustic of the refurbished Cathedral as it stands today? In fact, it worked remarkably well, although some subtleties were lost in the cavernous space. Under the steady baton of Jonathan Willcocks (whose father was responsible for introducing the work to the Three Choirs Festival), Guildford Choral and The Chichester Singers sang capably and convincingly with a good sense of drama when they could be heard above the splendid sounds of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. They were served by an excellent soloist in Gareth Brynmor John, who led the forces through the heartfelt lament for Jerusalem, the Babylon ‘catalogue’, and the dramatic description of the writing of the wall, with an appropriate sense of menace from the orchestral percussion depicting an immense balance.

Elgar’s gloriously autumnal Cello Concerto received a fine performance from Pavlos Carvalho, although the long sinuous melodies were better heard than the rapid passagework of the scherzo movement. This is a work that goes straight to the heart, and soloist and orchestra both ensured that it did so.

Gareth Brynmor John had begun the evening’s proceedings with a richly-voiced and sincere performance of Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs. In that building, and in that atmosphere, George Herbert’s words rang deeply true.

On 11thNovember the Guildford Choral Society will be joined by the London-based Bach Choir for a performance of Britten’s War Requiem to coincide with the centenary of the Armistice.

Shelagh Godwin

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