Sir Andrew Davis, TSO And Choirs Make A Feast Of Walton

Arthur Kaptainis, Musical Toronto

“A piece I am rather fond of” was how Sir Andrew Davis —  former TSO music director, present TSO conductor laureate and future TSO interim artistic director — described William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast in his spoken remarks in Roy Thomson Hall.

Well, rather. Davis selected this splashy biblical cantata of 1931 as the central element of the program with which the orchestra inaugurated its new home in 1982. An off-brand choice, to be sure, although it diverted attention from the acoustical problems of the facility by producing in a good deal of what is referred to in Scripture as joyful noise.

Roy Thomson Hall sounds much better now, after its renovation, and while I do not remember the specifics of the 1982 Belshazzar so much as an uneasy feeling that something was wrong, I am prepared to bet that the Friday performance with the combined forces of the Toronto Mendelssohn Choir (Noel Edison, director), and the visiting Huddersfield Choral Society (Gregory Batsleer, director) of England was a superior sonic experience.

Much of tale of the wicked Babylonian king is told in choral fortissimo, and it was a credit to all the participants – numbering almost 200, if my count is accurate — that words were often clear enough to be understood without the support of the printed text.

Brass were hearty, strings full of fire. Percussion had a field day with the false gods of gold, silver, iron, wood, stone and brass. The RTH organ added impressively to the climactic (but entirely vain) accreditation of Belshazzar as “King of Kings.”

Read the review of the full concert here.