Record reviews: single play

Walton: Belshazzar's Feast; Crown Imperial; Henry V Bryn Terfel (baritone), Bournemouth SO / Andrew Litton (piano) (Decca 448 134-2). Brahms: Liebeslieder-Walzer; Neue Liebeslieder-Walzer Barbara Bonney, Anne Sofie von Otter, Kurt Streit, Olaf Bar (EMI 5 55430-2)
Walton: Belshazzar's Feast etc

Where is that definitive digital Belshazzar? I had high hopes for this one, but I fear they're still ricocheting around Winchester Cathedral along with the Bournemouth Symphony Chorus's cry of "Slain!" Litton's spirited account has fallen victim to its environment. Decca has failed to manage the acoustic. The amplitude, the far reach of the sound is impressive, biblical in scope, as broad as it's wide with handsome registration of those deep-set organ-pedal swells. When Litton unfurls the grand march at the climax of the "Praise Ye" chorus, the soundstage opens to him. But detail - internal detail - where is it?

To my ears, the rhythmic profile of the performance has been hopelessly compromised. Bite, immediacy, that's what I'm missing. Percussion and brass make too generalised an effect: timpani are mostly puddingy, the excitement of the antiphonal brass groups is nowhere ("Praise ye / The god of brass" - so let's hear them), and the "joyful noise" of the close is, I fear, just that - a noise.

Bryn Terfel finds more colour and nuance in his prophetic words than most of his predecessors put together. But you can hear him in Teldec's far more revealing live recording taken from the last night of last year's Proms. Andrew Davis directed a cracker of a performance there. That will do nicely for now. ES

Brahms: Liebeslieder-Walzer etc

Brahms's two sets of "Love-song waltzes" are very difficult to bring off. On paper they're deceptively simple, but the tone is so hard to get right - a blend of robust folkiness and ironic Viennese elegance. They can easily sound coy or lumpen. These versions, recorded at two Edinburgh Festival concerts, are neither;but somehow the music never quite comes to life - the smiles are fixed, the dancing graceful but not wonderfully vital.

Schumann's "Spanish love-songs", the filler, may not deserve their neglect, but it will take more spirited singing to save them - proof that a fine all-star cast isn't a fail-safe formula for success. SJ

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