St John, Smith Square, London
1st April 2006
Handel's Samson followed hot on the heels of Messiah and there are strong connections between the two both in the choral and solo settings. At the same time the characterisation seems to pre-echo the innocence of Iphis and the torment of Hercules. Jeremy Jackman's approach to the score with the English Baroque Choir and Brandenburg Sinfonia found some of these nuances though his general direction was often ponderous and un-idiomatic.
The evening took a long time to settle, with erratic entries and often poor intonation over the first half hour. It was a pity that none of the lighter female voices in the choir could have been used for the Philistine Woman in the opening chorus as this really needed a totally different voice from Dalila. This really is Iphis or Iole in waiting and needs innocence rather than weight of voice. The chorus improved in attack, and by the end of the first half were far better focussed. The Brandenburg Sinfonia are heavy on strings and while the woodwind was precise and pleasing, the brass - so important to set the opening atmosphere - were inaccurate and muffled.
Robin Kimber was the organ soloist. Readers aware of my championing the use of the organ in Handel's oratorios may be surprised that in this case I complain that there was no harpsichord! As a consequence the continuo parts had little ability to vary tone or impact, and the lack of ornamentation or improvisation lent a certain dullness to the recitatives, which Handel frequently extends into arioso. A missed opportunity. Elizabeth Weisberg was better as Dalila than in the smaller parts but her large voice is more suited to romantic than baroque music. David Norman impressed as Samson though Timothy Mead seemed uneasy as Micah. Henry Herford was obviously having a bad night and seemed ill-suited to the score.
The score was heavily cut, often destroying Handel's sense of flow and dramatic pace. While there were enjoyable sections this did not do a masterpiece justice.
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