Adrian Partington's Picks of the Programme

There are two concerts which particularly excite me in this year’s Hereford Three Choirs Festival. The first is the concert to be given by the National Youth Orchestra of Wales, with the National Youth Choir of Wales during the afternoon of Thursday, 2nd August. The second is sparkling choral-orchestral concert of twentieth century music to be given on the evening of Friday, 3rd August.

Bernstein and Mahler

Thursday 2 August, 2.30 pm
Hereford Cathedral

The NYOW will be playing my favourite symphony, that is, Mahler’s Fifth. This symphony has a drama and intensity rarely matched by other composers. From its tragic opening to its triumphant conclusion, a whole world of emotion is presented to the listener. The piece begins with a funeral march, by turns solemn and passionate; this is followed by a stormy Scherzo which is marked to be played “Mit grösster Vehemenz”- I’m sure that doesn’t need to be translated! After another fast and boisterous movement comes one of the most precious jewels of Mahler’s creative output, the famous Adagietto. This movement is a tender love song for strings and harp dedicated to Mahler’s young wife Alma, and was made famous through its use in the soundtrack to the 1970s film Death in Venice. The Finale almost defies description! At the start, Mahler presents three, innocent folk-music like themes on woodwind instruments and proceeds to create a movement of staggering exuberance, where the little tunes are transformed to produce the most exciting climax in the symphonic repertoire. Each time I hear this Finale, I am left breathless with excitement, with my pulse rate at dangerously high levels.

The work will be played with huge flair by the wonderful young musicians of the NYOW, directed energetically by that great friend of the festival the distinguished Italian conductor, Carlo Rizzi. The Mahler symphony will be preceded by Bernstein’s cheerful Chichester Psalms, which will be sung by the young singers of the National Youth Choir of Wales. I wouldn’t miss this concert for anything!

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Symphony of Psalms

Saturday 4 August, 7.45 pm
Hereford Cathedral

My second choice of concerts will seem an immodest one, since I will be having the privilege of conducting it! However, I hope my position as the concert’s conductor will give me the authority to write about the programme with both affection and knowledge! The concert of which I speak is an inspired selection of four masterpieces from the twentieth century by four very different composers. The music in the second half of the programme dates from the last years of World War 1, and is a good reminder to us that the hundredth anniversary of the end of that catastrophic conflict is soon to be on us. Ravel’s elegant and colourful suite of four miniature orchestral pieces is a picture of eighteenth century court life through modern eyes. Beautifully written for a large orchestra joy, humour, and occasional sadness are combined through uniquely- sensitive orchestral colour. The principal piece in the concert is the last item, the tragic Lili Boulanger’s largest work, Au fond de l’abîme. (Out of the deep..). Lile Boulanger was one of the early twentieth century’s most original and daring composers, but died at the age of 25 after a lifetime of illness and suffering. This choral-orchestral setting of one of the most profound and desperate of all the psalms is dark, and distressing, but full of passion , anger, and occasional hope. In musical style, it is not unlike that other casualty of that dreadful year 1918, Claude Debussy; but it is poor Lili’s personal comment on suffering which to me is so moving and cathartic. Nobody attending the Festival should miss this piece. The first half of the concert is an imaginative pairing of Stravinsky’s alternately vigorous and elated Symphony of Psalms , with is unusual orchestration ( no violins, but with two pianos), with Walton’s evocative Viola Concerto, to be played by the young virtuoso, Timothy Ridout.

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