Balthasar's Feast

Wittgenstein once remarked that 'the difficulty was knowing when to stop'. He was referring to 'argument' - knowing what counts as an explanation and when that explanation cannot be improved upon.

I was reminded of this when listening to Walton's First Symphony driving home from my mother's. Walton appears never to know when to end!

Sir Michael Tippett once said of Walton that, 'he failed to renew himself'. I have always had a sense of what he meant. He does not have the depth or invention of Britten nor that capacity that Vaughan-Williams had to enter wholly new territory as he does in his 'bleak' later symphonies. Walton's music carries an instantly recognizable sense of itself including a certain sense of limit.

Yet how glorious it is at its best, after the symphony, came the oratorio, Balthasar's Feast that must contain the most beautifully joyous explosion in music when the king falls, found wanting by God, and the Jews can return home from Babylonian exile. It is primitive, raw and deeply felt (and controlled by a great discipline and understanding of choral textures).

In truth, I would happily sacrifice all Tippett for this one beautifully constructed exploration of Biblical story.


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