MUSIC / Long service on hard benches: Three Choirs Festival - Worcester Cathedral

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
DOMINICK Argento's Te Deum, written in 1987 for the Buffalo Schola Cantorum and receiving its European premiere, seemed to have all the ingredients for a Three Choirs hit: a much-loved liturgical text interspersed with vernacular poems, a clear command of orchestral sonority and an undemanding musical idiom. Somehow it just seemed to miss the mark and certainly outstayed its welcome.

The approach to the vernacular texts was on the chirpy, cheery 'merry England' side and Argento's musical idiom varies widely. At times it is pure wide-open-spaces Americana, elsewhere there were strong reminders of Britten in Gloriana 'choral dance' mode.

While this seemed a straightforwardly unpromising debut where the notes were concerned, the performance did not help. The Three Choirs Festival Chorus does sterling service for a broad range of choral repertoire in a short space of time; perhaps there wasn't quite enough for Argento. Unison lines, especially from the women, were fractured, entries were often uncertain and there was a woeful lack of volume - routine trombone chords all but obliterated the choir. .

The evening had begun well with a blistering performance of Glazunov's Carnaval overture, and the best performance of Dvorak's Cello Concerto I have heard in years (soloist Robert Cohen, expressive without sentimentality; Yuri Simonov conducting). The balance of old and new was managed more effectively in a concert of English string music played, once again, by the BBC Philharmonic under Donald Hunt. Indeed, balance seemed hardly in question where Robin Holloway's new Serenade for Strings was concerned, so easily did it slip into bed with such stalwarts of the repertoire as Parry and Holst. Holloway accepts the weight of tradition and wears it like a many-coloured mantle: woven into the texture of this new work (written in 1990) are traces of masters of the idiom from Elgar to Strauss, and many more besides.

The slow movement is, according to the composer, 'all quotations'. Holloway's talent is to weld these atmospheres, influences, quotations or what you will, into a convincing whole. The main problem, if it is one, is that the only theme from the work which sticks in the mind is by Beethoven, not Holloway.