Sunday 17 April 2011

Saul at the London Handel Festival

One of the advantages of going to hear Handel oratorio at London Handel Festival is that they perform the works uncut and in sensible editions. On Tuesday we visited St. George's Hanover Square to hear Lawrence Cummings and the London Handel Festival forces perform Saul. Antony Hicks, a long-time supporter of the festival, died recently and in his memory his edition of the oratorio was used. Saul was Handel's first oratorio with a libretto by Charles Jennens. It is his first dramatic masterpiece in the genre but still doesn't get that many outings. Perhaps the slightly unwieldy cast list is a problem, though another more likely reason is the nature of the title role. Handel and Jennens created a psychologically aposite portrait of Saul, isolated from the rest of the cast and tortured, but the result of course is brilliant but not showy. Saul hardly gets any arias and communicates in recitative and accompagnato. In some performances this results in Saul being understated, but Njal Sparbo took the role with a vengeance. He was credibly commanding and quite fearsome when mad, completely rising above the rather limited playing area provided by St. Georges. The festival runs an annual singing contest and this provides a source for soloists, so Sophie Junker who played Michal was last year's winner. In addition, a few of the other soloists were past winners. Junker made a winning Michal, managing to make the character's goodness seem interesting, along with a nice line in Handelian fioriture. Lucy Crowe played Merab, a character with altogether more to get your teeth into. Crowe was quite brilliant as bad tempered Merab, managing to make the character angry without being quite such a bitch. David was played by Iestyn Davies with a beautiful sense of line, creating sheer beauty with the magic of his voice. Nicholas Mulroy does not have quite such a lovely voice but his Jonathan was suitably passionate. The remaining characters were all cast from members of the chorus, providing a strong array of highly characterised cameos. Most credibly, Richard Rowntree was a suitable evocative Witch of Endor and James Platt a sonorously voiced ghost of Samuel. Under Lawrence Cummings' lively direction, the chorus and orchestra provided dramatic and strong support. The orchestra, one of Handel's largest, included not only the famous carillon and David's harp, but flutes, trombones, trumpets and timpani. St. George's isn't the most comfortable place to hear a concert, but this time we hardly noticed so engrossing and grip was the drama.


Popular Posts this month