Festival review: Belshazzar’s Feast, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

This year’s Festival music programme began three weeks ago with a blockbuster – albeit the flawed quick-hit that is Delius’s Mass of Life – and it surely ended in one on Saturday – a rip-roaring performance of Walton’s exuberant Belshazzar’s Feast, to which the enveloping sound of multiple gallery-positioned brass bands, and the floor-shaking power of the organ, added the ultimate thrill.

Belshazzar’s Feast

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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The stage itself was jam-packed with a swollen RSNO and the Edinburgh Festival Chorus singing, under conductor David Robertson, with an electrifying lustre that held us rapt from the infamously exposed opening to the final triumphant Alleluias. Every word was crystal clear, hi-octane drama coloured every level. Several years of chorusmaster Christopher Bell’s rigorous training are now, without doubt, bearing ripened fruit.

Solo baritone Neal Davies was powerful and engaging. Robertson’s energised physicality combined discipline and charisma.

Bemusement greeted a first half pairing of Charles Ives’s ethereal poser The Unanswered Question and Morton Feldman’s trance-inducing Coptic Light, both performed – without warning – as if one piece. It worked at a sensory level, although the stasis of Feldman’s music remains mind-numbing, even in such a crystalline performance. But it sure cleared our thoughts for the Walton.