WORKS: Belshazzar’s Feast; Symphony No. 1
PERFORMER: Thomas Hampson (baritone)Cleveland Orchestra Chorus, CBSO & Chorus/Simon Rattle
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56592 2
It was of Walton’s great oratorio Belshazzar’s Feast that Beecham, prior to its first performance, at the 1931 Leeds Festival, said: ‘As you’ll never hear the thing again, why not throw in a couple of brass bands.’ Walton did exactly that and in the process proved Beecham triumphantly wrong. The extra brass are heard to best advantage in the stirring paean to the god of gold, which is one of the highlights of this exhilarating new recording from Simon Rattle and his Birmingham forces (joined by Thomas Hampson as an eloquent soloist and the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus). Well-disciplined choral singing and sharp, jazzy rhythms bring both this section and the final orgiastic celebration over the fall of Babylon to thrillingly vibrant life.
Belshazzar is coupled with Rattle’s 1990 account of Walton’s First Symphony, through which courses no less excitement and tension, though it is equally skilful in exploring the veins of malice and melancholy in the scherzo and slow movement respectively. André Previn’s classic 1966 RCA recording of the symphony remains hard to beat, though Paul Daniel’s recent version for Naxos drives it close, and Rattle’s is a very acceptable alternative.