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Gloriously inspired

Choral works
by Walton and Elgar -
reviewed by

'Sargent's vitality matches Walton's ...'

Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius; Walton: Belshazzar's Feast. © 2004 EMI Records Ltd

Belshazzar was never king in Babylon. He was the Prince Charles, while his father Nabonidus had journeyed four hundred and fifty miles for a ten-year sojourn in Saudi-Arabia; but Belshazzar's granny did die at a hundred and one. The bible muddles the names, but let that be. Osbert Sitwell made a splendid text from the book of Daniel, tightening the action so that Belshazzar can be bumped off almost as soon as the fingers of the hand have made their remarkable graffito on the dining-room wall, and before Daniel has had a chance to be summoned and produce his interpretation. But indeed Babylon, after the return of king Nabonidus, fell to Cyrus the Persian in 539 BC.

Walton's score remains an astonishing production for a man not yet thirty, and Sargent seems never to have tired of it. It has been said that the music for the impious Babylonians drinking out of the sacred vessels is too little differentiated from that of the Jews exultant over Babylon's fall. This seems to me psychologically precise. On moral grounds, as we know only too well in the 21st century, there is little to choose between the two teams.

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Copyright © 29 June 2004 Robert Anderson, London UK


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