Saturday, April 08, 2006


I've discussed before (and also here) my difficulties with the movement to revive the use of early musical instruments, but at that time I hadn't heard the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the best of this type of group that I've heard, play Handel's Solomon at the Barbican. They included two natural horns, one with a lot of extra curlicues, and two very long, ostentatious, completely uncurled trumpets. Not a bloop was heard. I ask for the same performance standards you would expect from any professional orchestra. I got them here. I liked especially the fiery leadership from the concertmistress, Alison Bury.

I've always thought of Handel as annoyingly pompous, and I begin to see how this approach changes all that. A light textured and light spirited Handel is very attractive indeed. This spirit of lightness was shared by the thirty voice chorus called merely English Voices. This small group could be both nimble and large when necessary. They even split into two antiphonal groups and still managed to sound forceful. Bravo.

I was not even annoyed with the falsettist (David Hansen) for a change. A young man does help us imagine a young king. I especially liked the tenor, Jeremy Overdon, a lyric, Mozart, almost I would say English tenor with a beautiful sound.

René Jacobs' batonless baton technique was disturbing to me, but since the performers themselves were not bothered by it, what difference does that make?

There was only one aspect of the performance that seemed somewhat out of step with current trends--the soloists didn't ornament. Perhaps that is felt to be too Italian for an English oratorio. I find that I like the current trend to ornamentation, but it might be out of the English tradition.

In the program notes the audience of the day is criticized for not appreciating Handel, but I imagine in England as everywhere else the Baroque was over by 1747. The piece itself is interesting and varied, perhaps even struggling a little toward the rococo.


Anonymous said...

Hello! I think I sat next to you at the Barbican concert (Handel's Solomon) last Friday evening. I came across your blog whilst searching for reviews of the concert on the internet. Surprisingly, the other two reviews I have seen (in the FT and The Independent) were very moderate: personally, I thought it was a stunning performance.


Dr.B said...

Hi. Yes, I remember you. You live somewhere near Oxford. I'm glad you enjoyed it, too. I find that I have become addicted to blogging.