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This three-part, full-length oratorio is one of Max's most spectacular vocal and choral works yet. The text, couched in rapturous, scented, orientally-infused Old Testament love poetry from the biblical Song of Solomon or Song of Songs (the spiritual yet tangibly physical mutual adoration of Solomon and his Sulamite bride - often seen a preemptive allegory of Christ's love for the church), draws from Davies - appropriately - one of his most highly coloured, herbal and aromatic scores to date. While the music for solo voices and chorus may suggest shades of Max's operas (Sandy's aria in The Lighthouse, or the redemptive doctor's music in The Doctor of Myddfai), it's as lyrically enraptured as his visionary orchestral song-cycle Into the Labyrinth (the tenor takes a lead role here, too, as the rapt male lover). Yet what most impresses is the accumulation of the whole - a fusion of vital duet and quartet writing, melting upper voice solos, rich choral climaxes, plus the entire wealth of Max's experience poured into producing, not the austere, restrained Classicism of his smaller choral works, but an almost pictorial Romantic outpouring: not just another Job, but Max's Belshazzar's Feast. 'Vulnerasti me', intones the enraptured tenor: 'You have wounded me!' If this glorious, full-blooded, passionate oratorio doesn't pierce, wound and ravish even the casual listener, nothing will.
Credit: Roderick Dunnett
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