Norman Scribner is almost never seen conducting his splendid Choral Arts Society, because he spends most of his time preparing it to be the chorus for conductors such as Leonard Bernstein and Mstislav Rostropovich. So it was a pleasure to have Scribner himself at the helm last night, in an all-British program at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
Of the three works the final one was the most virtuosic, Sir William Walton's "Belshazzar's Feast." The choral attacks were remarkably apt in this noisy tour de force of choral music. It is a biblical epic in the De Mille sense. The lengthy passage beginning "Praise Ye the God of Gold" sounds more like a cinema oratorio than a "Gloria" in the sense of Bach or Mozart. It is descriptive more than spiritual art. Baritone Ben Holt, by the way, sang well as the soloist.
Likewise, Gustav Holst's "The Hymn of Jesus," for double chorus, seemed less spiritual than ceremonial.
The finest work of the program was Benjamin Britten's "Les Illuminations," a group of terse, foreshortened pieces of prose poetry by Arthur Rimbaud that have been set to music. The little excerpts come in elliptical bursts of soaring lyricism. Time and again you are struck by the brevity of an impassionate segment. Soprano Judith Borden sang the wwords with strength and purity.