Thursday 24 March 2005

A Handelian Passion

To St. Johns, Smith Square on Tuesday to see the King's Consort performing the St. Matthew Passion. Having seen the Gabrieli Consort perform the work here in 2003 with just 8 singers, it was a complete contrast to find Robert King conducting a choir of around 50 (2 mixed choirs of 17 each and around a dozen choristers from Wells) and an orchestra to match. They filled the stage to overflowing (at one point in part 1, St. Peter had to deliver his lines from behind a pillar), and there was a disturbing amount of coming and going from the soloists who were housed off stage when not singing.

This was very definitely a performance in the European oratorio tradition, the Passion as it might have been performed had Handel chosen to perform it in London. This is not quite as mad as it sounds, after all Handel and Telemann were friends and correspondants (in old age, Handel was still sending Telemann packages of plants). Telemann staged a number of Handel's works in Hamburg, doing the necessary adaptions himself I believe. Handel never reciprocated, he seems to have been on of those performers who cannot bear to have other challengers around. In that respect, life in London suited him where he could be very much top dog.

Handel and Bach were not friends, they never met and I don't think they corresponded. Bach attempted to meet up with Handel a couple of times but Handel seems to have gone out of his way to avoid a meeting. As he left little in the way of personal record, we have no way of knowing what his thoughts on his great contemporary were.

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