Review: Howells and Walton

Bristol’s first performance of Hymnus Paradisi was certainly one to be remembered. Commanded by David Ogden, the City of Bristol Choir, Exultate Singers and Bristol Ensemble produced a wonderful rendition of Herbert Howells’ magnificent work at Colston Hall last Saturday. The two choirs blended very well together and, with strong support from the orchestra throughout, carried the music through myriad moods and emotions: from moments of tension and drama to passages of poignancy and beauty. Soloists Anita Watson and Andrew Tortise contributed a strong presence to the Hall 1 stage.

Arguably the most memorable soloist, however, was 15-year old violinist Callum Smart, whose performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending combined youthful vigour with a startling level of maturity and control. The 2010 winner of the strings category of the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition captured the delicate and yearning mood of the work, which incidentally had its premiere in Bristol nearly 100 years ago. As before, the Bristol Ensemble provided a supportive and sensitive accompaniment throughout.

The inclusion of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man gave members of the orchestra the opportunity to be in the limelight. The triumphant work was given an enthusiastic and fiery performance by the brass and percussion players of the ensemble.

The final item on the programme, William Walton’s thrilling Belshazzar’s Feast, saw the return of the double choir, as well as the arrival of bass-baritone Jonathon Lemalu. The sheer size of the choir added real depth to large-scale sections such as Thus spake Isiah, whilst in the more sparse sections, of which the opening of Praise ye is an obvious example, Lemalu’s virtuosity had a chance to shine through. Together, the assorted musicians put on a dynamic and energetic show and the final section – Then sing aloud to God our strength – concluded the evening with suitable ecstasy.

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