Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Belshazzar's Feast by William Walton

(excellent though slightly smallish performance led by Andrew Davis. Willard White is the bass.)

Let us give praise to those works of music that didn't make any difference to the history of music, did not plunge into any depths of profundity, and gave general offense to those who view art as a sacred temple that may in no way be profaned. Let us give praise to those works of music that are awesome purely in the same way a fast car or a mechanical toy are. No elusive poetic truths, just the ability to say 'VRRRROOOOOOOM!'

Belshazzar's Feast is an almost completely vapid piece of music, and so much the awesome for it. Properly done by a chorus of 300 and an orchestra of over 150 (including two offstage brass bands). The story is of 'the writing on the wall' from the Book of Daniel (though it begins with the Book of Isaiah) and basically takes the form of the Handel oratorio for a 20th century attention span. There are no affecting arias, no moments of quiet repose, just 35 minutes of non-stop Old Testament Fire and Brimstone done at a stratospheric level of tongue-in-cheek kitsch. For me, the entire piece is like a Wes Andersen take on the Old Testament. All the gestures of profundity are there, but never for a moment can you believe that William Walton is being serious about any of this.

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