Walton: Belshazzar's Feast / Daniel, Purves, Lindley, Et Al

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I wish I could give this disc the highest rating for overall artistic quality, because the performance of Belshazzar's Feast is simply spectacular, but unfortunately other equally fine performances come with more interesting couplings, and even with the two marches this release still offers less than 50 minutes of music. Make no mistake, though, if you care about the major work, then you will want to hear what Paul Daniel and his combined forces do with it. In particular, it's terrific to hear the piece sung by a really large, enthusiastic English chorus of the "festival" variety--the sort of forces that Walton composed it for in the first place. The very opening invocation ("Thus spake Isaiah") has a very different, weightier sound than usual when sung by such a crowd--greater amplitude and richness--but the words remain remarkably clear throughout.

Here's the bottom line: after the comparatively quiet and mournful first 10 minutes, Daniel basically lines up this huge mass of voices and they proceed to scream their collective guts out--and let's face it, what more would you want in this loudest and most energetic of choral works? The enthusiasm and sense of occasion is palpable, and it extends to the work of the orchestra, which renders such moments as the "Praise ye" episode with incomparable vividness from the brass and percussion. Once the piece gets hopping ("In Babylon, Belshazzar the king made a great feast") there's simply no looking back. Granted, the "Joyful noise" at the very end might pass by in a bit of a blur at this tempo, but then it nearly always does, and the Naxos recording is pretty terrific in just about every respect, capturing both an unusual amount of orchestral detail while offering the palpable impression of vast choral forces in a large space.

Baritone Christopher Purves isn't the most smooth-voiced of soloists, but he gets the job done with aplomb, and the two marches (recorded way back in 1996) are effective but obviously are there for lack of anything better. Still, at budget price you won't find a snazzier Belshazzar, and for sheer "pedal to the metal" panache, this one has them all beat. If you want perfect choral discipline you may want to look elsewhere, but for a genuine musical hubbub in the best sense, look no further.
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 8555869

  • UPC: 747313586929

  • Label: Naxos

  • Composer: Sir William Walton

  • Conductor: Paul Daniel

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: English Northern Philharmonia, Huddersfield Choral Society, Laudibus, Leeds Philharmonic Chorus

  • Performer: Christopher Purves, Simon Lindley