The most talked-about topic among Taipei’s choral enthusiasts recently must have been English composer William Walton’s (1902-1983) powerful and grand-scale choral symphony work Belshazzar’s Feast. The Taipei Philharmonic Chorus is set to make history by putting on its upcoming concert titled “Thanksgiving and Celebration — Belshazzar’s Feast” on Saturday, featuring Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast as well as Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s (1643-1704) Te Deum, both of which are Taiwan premieres.
Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, composed in 1931 and generally regarded as the composer’s compositional highlight, tells the biblical story of the collapse of the ancient Babylonian empire. The work is unprecedentedly massive in its scoring, including a baritone soloist, double mixed chorus, a semi-chorus, a full orchestra, an organ, and two brass bands. In other words, it features a fiercely magnificent sound effect, rich harmonies, and technically demanding musical tension and expression. The work is rarely performed even in Europe.
Walton expert Michael Kennedy once wrote, “Walton calls Belshazzar’s Feast neither cantata nor oratorio, and in his later years encouraged the view that it was a choral symphony.” In 1947 Herbert von Karajan called Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, “the best choral music that has been written in the last 50 years.” The work is characterized by its fierce and rich orchestration and ever-shifting and sophisticated rhythms, which later indirectly inspired Carl Orff’s (1895-1982) famous work Carmina Burana.
The motet Te Deum, presented in the first half of the concert, was originally composed to celebrate the victory of the Battle of Steinkirk in 1692. Given the work’s baroque aural splendor, which echoes the concert’s theme of thanksgiving and celebration, it has been used for the introduction of the Olympics as well as the theme music preceding the broadcasts of the European Broadcasting Union.
Hungarian conductor Gabor Hollerung and Hungarian baritone Peter Kalman were invited to present the concert. Accompanied by the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra, the concert with its diverse program will open with German composer Richard Wagner’s (1813-1883) instrumental piece Prelude from Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg, then Te Deum, and then end with the exciting masterpiece Belshazzar’s Feast. Hollerung said that it would be a significant and special musical event.
(Lin Ya-ti, Taipei Times)