First performance of Henry V tonight

Tonight I have the first of three performances of Henry V, with the others tomorrow night and Saturday night.

It’s a great work, based on William Walton’s score for the 1944 Laurence Olivier film version of Shakespeare’s play. The music is interspersed with speeches from the play, including the famous St Crispin’s Day speech…we few, we happy few, we band of brothers.

Unfortunately the men of the choir don’t play a very large role. We have about twenty bars of humming in the opening sequence. Then we have to wait for nearly an hour until the final three minutes for our triumphant version of the Agincourt hymn. Thankfully there’s plenty of room in the choir stalls, so we won’t get cramped sitting still for so long.

Here’s the review of last Thursday night’s concert of Henry V from today’s *Australian * (10 August). The choir gets an honourable mention, depite its relatively insignificant contribution.

President, Painter, King

Sydney Symphony
Sydney Philharmonia Choir
Sydney Children’s Choir

Conductor: James Judd

Concert Hall, Sydney Opera House, 5 August

This unusual and enterprising programme offered musical portraits of three historical figures – US president Abraham Lincoln and Australian painter Brett Whiteley in the first half and King Henry V of England in the second.

Christopher Palmer’s arrangement of William Walton’s music for the famous 1944 Laurence Olivier film of Henry V is an object lesson in how to fashion film music for the concert hall. Palmer’s realisation follows the structure of the play, interspersing excerpts from it with Walton’s imaginative and majestic score. Actor John Bell performed these selections with flair and intelligence, contrasting well the narrative musings of the chorus with the rousing, fiery speeches of King Harry.

Under conductor James Judd’s assured direction, the orchestral playing shone with brilliance. The mediaeval-inspired sections were bright and breezy (with delightful choral contributions), the battle scenes were ominous and ferocious, the patriotic set pieces were suitably jubilant and the two well-known string interludes (the poignant passacaglia and the gentle Touch Her Soft Lips and Part) were beautifully realised. The brass section was in particularly fine form, with Daniel Mendelow’s sparkling solo trumpet calls being especially impressive.

Good Job. Henry V and Much Ado About Nothing have to be my favorite works.

Well done! Henry V’s a d*mn good play.