Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis
Sir Patrick Spens [London premiere]
A Birthday Card for Prince Charles
The Lark Ascending
Te Deum (Collegium Regale)
Katy Hill (soprano)
Andrew Staples (tenor)
Alan Opie (baritone)
Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay (violin)
The Bach Choir
Winchester Cathedral Choristers
Winchester College Quiristers
Reviewed by: Edward Clark
Reviewed: 27 November, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Before the music, there were words of tribute from David Hill for a long-time collaborator, Richard Hickox, on all things to do with English music.
As if pre-ordained, the concert began with that quintessential English work, Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Tallis Fantasia. Hill’s approach was suitably reverential, soft strings opening this most beautiful of all English musical canvases. The other well-known gem in the programme, The Lark Ascending, was well crafted by Zsolt-Tihamér Visontay, a soloist of real stature.
Otherwise the programme concentrated on the close relationships between Vaughan Williams, Herbert Howells and The Bach Choir. “Sancta Civitas”, written in the mid-1920s, showed how far Vaughan Williams had moved English music from the Elgarian model formed from a Teutonic example of 50 years earlier. This is a fine work, in many ways representing the bridge between Elgar’s holier-than-thou propensities and Walton’s more irreverent “Belshazzar’s Feast” from a decade later. Hill and his Choir had the measure of a work that ranges from Delian associations at the opening to a Waltonian off-stage choir during the half-hour length. The soloists were a refined Alan Opie and a barely-used Andrew Staples, surely a misfire from the composer allowing the tenor a mere few bars of glory.
Howells is not nearly as well-known today, and this is a misfortune. Howells contributed greatly to the English choral tradition. We heard two examples of this legacy: “Sir Patrick Spens”, here given its belated London premiere, and the finer, more focused “Te Deum (Collegium Regale)” in which choir and orchestra combined to thrilling effect.
The sad novelty was a tribute by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies to The Prince of Wales, 60 a few days ago. Max’s royal responsibilities seem to weigh heavily on him. After the poor Proms commission of two years ago to celebrate some other royal occasion, here we heard a fast, slow, fast piece for strings that did nothing for his reputation. The composer was present to hear this calamity.