Review: University Choirs/Symphony Orchestra; York Minster

First published in Music news and reviews by

SEVERAL other feasts were celebrated on Wednesday alongside Belshazzar's, given in Walton's fiery setting. It was Sir Jack Lyons who almost single-handedly endowed York University's music department in the 1960s and whose munificence has continued since. His 90th birthday was reason enough for thanksgiving.

Alongside him sat Lady Walton, widow of a composer whose distinctive musical legacy can too easily be undervalued. It is also the end of the academic year. Fitting, therefore, that conductor Peter Seymour pulled out all the stops, inviting the 40-odd voices of the student madrigal-choir from Westflische Wilhelms-Universitt in Mnster (conductor Ulrich Haspel) to augment York University's chamber choir, choir and symphony orchestra more than 350 in all. The university's musicians bring another vital benefit, their own high-rise seating. Reaching above the top of the choir screen, it hugely assists audibility and visibility and, most importantly, virtually eliminates the unwanted reverberation of sound escaping into the central tower.

Walton's two coronation marches honouring another important birthday were ideally majestic, recalling Elgar. But it was Psalm 23, the serene centre rather than the surrounding fireworks, that emerged most effectively from Bernstein's Chichester Psalms, launched by Dominic Davies's treble. Belshazzar's Feast is a strenuous sing, but Seymour kept a tight rein. The ladies soared confidently, the (fewer) gentlemen held on courageously. The orchestra, led by refulgent brass, surpassed itself. With Roderick Williams as robust soloist, the net effect bordered on the terrifying. A thrilling evening.

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