Saul….the sixteen orchestra and chorus….
Earlier this year Buxton opera festival mounted a staged production of Saul that disappointed….
Last week the Sixteen under Harry Christophers gave us an account of this magnificent oratorio that skirted perfection. The playing was wonderful and the chorus brought Handel’s masterpiece to life. Equally the soloists enlivened the rich score with some electrifying singing. Christopher Purves’ dark timbre gave life to a darker Saul… unforgettable…Robert Murray gave us an heroic Jonathan and Elizabeth Atherton offered us a lively characterisation of Merab that was perfectly foiled by Joelle Harvey’s fluidly sung Michal. The technique of all the principles at times really thrilled – runs and trills easily gilding each aria with baroque glory. Sarah Connolly richly realised David’s wonderful music…perhaps she was better in the first half of this performance – her voice seemed to fade somewhat in the Lament that is the dramatic core of the oratorio. But what a velvet voice she owns and how intelligently she sang to thrill the audience. The incidental music – amongst the richest and most varied of any of the Handel oratorios – was perfectly realised…. I particularly loved the organ music. The dead march….was also played with unexpected virtuosity….quite different from the usual dull pomp.
But if the night had a single glory the palm must belong to the chorus….and how well they brought to life the words of the libretto…I loved the fact the some of them also took the lesser rolls…and also the ensemble gave ferocious attack to that last chorus…. ‘gird on thy sword’…which has to be one of Handel’s most remarkable pieces of dramatic mood changes in his vast corpus of great choral compositions.
I understand next year the Sixteen will give us Handel’s late master-work…Jephtha….I for one can hardly wait….