Belshazzar’s Feast ‘a tremendous wall of sound’ – Review

Saturday 11 June 2022

Covid and the absence of Russian musicians after the invasion of Ukraine made this another difficult year for the Sheffield International Concert season, yet it ended not with a whimper but a magnificent bang.

In fact, it was more of a tremendous wall of sound created by an orchestra nearly a hundred strong, augmented by trumpeters in the wings, and the combined forces of two of Yorkshires’ finest choirs, totalling 150 singers.

The occasion was a performance of William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, set to words from the Bible chosen by Osbert Sitwell of Renishaw Hall, just outside Sheffield and, to steal a line from this dramatic cantata, when it was weighed in the balance it was not found wanting.

The young conductor Finnegan Downie Dear extracted supercharged performances of the powerful and sometimes jazz-inflected score from both the band and the combined choirs, the Sheffield Philharmonic and Leeds Festival choruses.

The choir was particularly impressive after having sat patiently through the first half of the evening waiting for their moment, and the Sheffield Phil’s choirmaster Darius Battiwalla rightly appeared to share in the enthusiastic applause.

That was the highlight of an all-British evening which began with the atmospheric Sea Interludes, from Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes, with the Halle sensitively catching the changing moods of the four sections, from still dawn to noisy storm.

The evening’s other offering was another piece of programme music, the young British composer Thomas Ades’ Inferno, written for a ballet version of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Being able to see dancers interpreting this piece would have helped the audience follow the musical storyline here, but overall this concert was an impressive climax to a problematic season.

Philip Andrews, Sheffield Telegraph