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The second night saw a potentially controversial performance of Delius' setting of words by the German philosopher and poet Friedrich Nietzsche (who rejected Christianity and believed in the superiority of human will) in A Mass of Life, an extraordinary large scale work that on a first hearing cries out to be re-explored, and would pay handsomely in return. Again Hickox was at the helm, directing the chorus with a precise, unequivocal beat, ably attended by four soloists, notably Clare Rutter who was brought in at very short notice taking the place of an ailing Susan Gritton, and the Philharmonia once again.

In the Cathedral on the Monday morning a performance by the virtuosic Royal Northern College of Music Wind Orchestra was followed in the evening by David Briggs' first major concert of the week. Opening the concert was the previously mentioned Gary Magee singing the orchestral version of Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs. This was followed by the first of two major works by David Briggs: Creation, a view of the initial creation out of chaos followed by explorations of the joys held within. This work replaced what would have been an exciting new commission from Patrick Gowers, My Heart was Grieved, which sadly could not be completed by the composer due to a debilitating stroke: we hope he returns to full health.

Creation reminded one instantly of the Frenchman Olivier Messiaen - an Ondes Martenot would have been by no means out of place (perhaps the soprano soloist provided an easier alternative). The language was harmonically quite dense and in one movement even showed great bird-like utterances (not surprisingly in the movement called 'For Birds'). The work as a whole was quite well proportioned with some very well judged climaxes, although the initial expanse of music was somewhat imbalanced by breaks between the latter sections. Caught up in his admiration of the initial creation of the world Briggs lost his baton, returned to the desk by the soprano soloist Ruth Holten, who coped admirably with Briggs' often rhapsodic writing, sometimes very high and exposed.

The heavy language of the Briggs made the Walton Viola Concerto seem very much like a sorbet in a well directed, crisp performance with Paul Silverthorne as soloist. The last work in the concert was Holst's rarely performed The Hymn of Jesus: a rather slow (and slowing) performance which suffered a little in the chorus, being slightly shoddy -- but the overall effect was there.

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Copyright © 23 September 2001 Philip Lancaster, Chosen Arts, Bristol, UK





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