As the countdown to Three Choirs Festival gets underway we thought we would take a look at some of the events which will form part of the festival this year. This week, Symphony of Psalms:

Symphony of Psalms
Friday 3 August, 7.45 pm

The sparkling dance rhythms in Ravel’s elegantly neoclassical suite belie the sombre dedication of each movement to a friend who had died in World War I. Although as a woman she was excluded from the fighting, Lili Boulanger also saw the extreme toll of war and composed the touching Psalm 130 with its dark harmonies as a heart-breaking lament to loss of hope. Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, also deeply moving, maps a journey from keening sinfulness to redemption and ferocious exaltation.

“This sparkling choral-orchestral concert of twentieth century music 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, Du fond de l’abîme (Out of the depths). Lili 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 its unusual orchestration (no violins, but with two pianos), with Walton’s evocative Viola Concerto, to be played by the young virtuoso Timothy Ridout.” Adrian Partington

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