Review: The Songs of War, Orchestra of Opera North, Leeds Town Hall, Saturday 1st December 2018

FORTY years separate Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No 3 from Will Todd’s Songs of Love and Battle. Todd’s “micro” opera was commissioned by Opera North for the centenary of the 1918 Armistice. The composer and his librettist, Maggie Gottlieb, focus on the thousands of young Yorkshiremen who signed up in 1914 - only to be mown down like fields of wheat at the Battle of the Somme.

Even conductor Richard Farnes’ fine balance of textures could not always ensure that the words sung by Opera North’s animated children’s and youth choruses cut across Todd’s evocative orchestration - a case for some discreet amplification of fledging voices, perhaps? Soprano Fflur Wyn and baritone Johnny Herford both spun an eloquent line.

The 1992 release of a CD recording of Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No 3 - the Symphony of Sorrowful Songs (1977) topped the classical charts and propelled American soprano Dawn Upshaw to international stardom.

Each of the three movements are marked Lento (slowly) and feature the lamentations of a solo soprano. The vocal line is underpinned by sustained, pulsing strings. Richard Farnes’ impeccably managed build-up of the immense instrumental canon founded on the mahogany richness of the six double basses underscored the hour-long work. Fflur Wyn’s responsiveness to the music as the mother grieving for her son lost to enemy action was enthralling. The audience duly responded to a performance whose intensity was matched by the transparency of detail.

Geoffrey Mogridge