Thursday 1 March 2018

Handelian celebration with the Foundling Hospital Anthem

Chapel of the Foundling Hospital
Handel My Heart is Inditing, Nisi Dominus, Zadok the Priest, Foundling Hospital Anthem; Mary Bevan, Tim Mead, Gwilym Bowen, Florilegium, Stephen Layton; St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 27 2018 Star rating: 3.5
Handel's anthem for the Foundling Hospital forms the centrepiece of an imaginative celebratory programm

For the celebrations of its 21st Anniversary, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health presented a concert of Handel's music at St John's Smith Square on 27 February 2018, performed by Florilegium (director Ashley Solomon) and conducted by Stephen Layton with soloists Mary Bevan (soprano), Tim Mead (counter-tenor), and Gwilym Bowen (tenor). Two works in the programme had imaginative links to the college. The centrepiece of the programme was something of a rarity, Handel's Foundling Hospital Anthem which was written for a fundraising concert for the Foundling Hospital, the UK's first children's charity. The second work was Handel's Nisi Dominus whose includes the text of the college's motto 'Ecce haereditas Domini filii'. The programme also included two of Handel's Coronation Anthems, My Heart is Inditing and Zadok the Priest, plus arias from Serse, Giulio Cesare and Orlando, and 'Let the bright seraphim' from Samson.

We started with My heart is inditing, which opened with engagingly rhythmic strings complementing soloists from the choir. The performance brought out the textural variety of the piece with a nice intensity of line in the second section, and a graceful third section before the lively finale with its trumpets and drums.

Next came Handel's Nisi Dominus, written in 1707 during his Italian sojurn. The rather dazzling opening allows the soloists, Tim Mead, Gwilym Bowen and Simon Gallear (from the choir) to elaborate on the choral textures. A lively solo from Gwilym Bowen with perky continuo accompaniment followed, and then Tim Mead gave us a wonderfully limpid line over throbbing strings. Simon Gallear's rather vivid solo including striking depictions of the text's 'arrows flight' in the strings. The final solo came from Gwilym Bowen's vibrantly engaged tenor, before the lively 'Gloria patri' with its choral fugue.

The first half concluded with a pair of lollipops. First Tim Mead sang 'Ombra mai fu' from Handel's Serse with lovely fluid tone, and some finely floated top notes, and then Mary Bevan was the soloist in 'Let the bright seraphim' from Samson. Bevan sang with lovely warm tone and was complemented by a fine trumpet solo, whilst the concluding chorus was crisply vivid with the trumpets and drums making their mark.

The second half opened with Zadok the Priest, the opening quietly gentle and providing strong contrast with the strong choral entry. There were plenty of exciting moments with some crisp rhythms and superb choral passagework.

Mary Bevan then sang Cleopatra's 'Piangero' from Giulio Cesare. She started from a beautifully elegant line, but developed the performance into something far stronger. This was about much more than just a beautiful tone, and was a remarkably powerful account of the aria, with a vividly strong middle section. Tim Mead followed with 'Fammi combattere mostri e tifei' from Orlando which was firmly martial, with superb passagework and a lovely confident sense of display particularly in the ornaments in the Da Capo.

The final work of the evening was Handel's Foundling Hospital Anthem, written in 1749 for a benefit concert and performed in the hospital's unfinished chapel. Part of the work's charm is the fact that Handel assembled it out of much existing material, with music from the Funeral Anthem for Queen Caroline, a chorus from Susanna and the 'Hallelujah Chorus' from Messiah (a work which was not yet popular). The text comes from a variety of Biblical sources, selected by the composer.

It opened in a very striking manner, the string ritornello suddenly stopped and Gwilym Bowen's first 'Blessed' is unaccompanied before the graceful opening solo developed, with Bowen combining virile tone with fine diction.  There were further striking moments, including a lovely lyrical solo for Tim Mead, beautifully sombre re-cycled sections of the Funeral Music for Queen Caroline and a rather striking, large-scale chorus originally from Susanna. The soloists were Mary Bevan, Lucy Goddard (from the choir), TIm Mead and Gwilym Bowen, and the penultimate movement was a lovely duet for Bevan and Goddard, the two voices weaving in an out. 'Hallelujah' made a rousing finish, but it has to be admitted that this is very much an occasional piece. I am not sure that the various parts coalesce into a whole, but Stephen Layton and his forces gave us a sterling performance.

There was one further performer that evening, Sir Richard Stilgoe, who acted as a sort of compere and provided us with spoken programme notes, informative and amusing in his own inimitable fashion.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Bach on the piano, Sandro Ivo Bartoli in Bach's smaller pieces (4.5*) - CD review
  • Well worth crossing the Red Sea for: Rossini's Mosè in Egitto from Chelsea Opera Group (4.5*) - opera review
  • Music, myth and time: Karen Cargill and the Scottish Ensemble at Kings Place (4.5*) - concert review
  • A varied career: our interview with violinist Thomas Gould finds him in a thoughtful mood - interview
  • Má vlast: Jiri Belohlavek's last recording with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra - CD review (****)
  • Notable recital debut disc from French Horn player Ben Golscheider - Cd review (****)
  • 18 years after its premiere, Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking receives its first UK performance - Opera review (3.5 *)
  • Gerstein plays Gershwin: Rhapsody in Blue and Piano Concerto in F - CD review (****)
  • Satyagraha: Philip Glass's opera at ENO - Opera review (****)
  • Musical Arcadia: Handel at Vauxhall on Signum Classics - CD review (****)
  • Motherhood and memory: Helen Grime's Bright Travellers at the Wigmore Hall - Concert review (****)
  • Bernstein, Gubaidulina & more: violinist Vadim Gluzman on the importance of contemporary repertoire  - Interview
  • Music in a cold climate: the sounds of Hansa Europe - CD review (***)
  • Spices! Perfumes! Toxins! Approachably melodic percussion concerto - CD review - CD review (***)
  • Home

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