VSsays Chineke again! if it seems there is finally some momentum behind the rediscovery of black composers by symphony orchestras and record companies. Here the orchestra saved some of the limelight for composer George Walker, even as it did an exhilarating job of the annual Proms performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Walker’s music remained unheard of at the Proms until the debut of Chineke! here in 2017, but it too is gaining momentum. Earlier this year, London audiences heard Lilacs, the song cycle that in 1996 made Walker the first black winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Music, courtesy of the LSO and soprano Nicole Cabell; she was again a soloist here at the Royal Albert Hall. Lilacs features Walt Whitman’s words after the murder of Abraham Lincoln, and Walker’s music underlies a heady romance with an underlying sense of menace. The vocal line slides over languorous and vaporous strings, the high notes sparkle with keys of bell-shaped percussion and celesta. Cabell expressed it with clear, unhurried eloquence and brilliant tone.
It is in Beethoven that Chineke! came into its own, taking on a new franchise of appealing tone. Bandleader Kevin John Edusei – based in Germany, but back in London in October for ENO’s Tosca – set fast tempos but didn’t seem to need to push his musicians forward at all, and transitions went smoothly. proceeded smoothly. For the first three movements at least, the music never seemed rushed; instead, there was a floating lightness and a constant sense of dialogue between the instruments, thanks in part to the transparency of the sound Edusei drew from the orchestra and the meticulous clarity of his approach. The performance sounded simple and organic, the phrasing simple, and yet at the same time it was packed with detail, so even Beethoven enthusiasts who had heard this work hundreds of times before might have picked up on something unnoticed. previously.
At the start of the fourth movement, the sharpness slipped once or twice, but once bass-baritone soloist Ryan Speedo Green nailed us to our seats with his terrific lead-in, the performance felt firmly grounded again. . About 200 people loud and singing from memory, Chineke! The vocals made Beethoven’s finale as catchy and joyous as possible.