Sunday, 16 August 2009


12/8/09, Royal Albert Hall

2 hrs 15 mins. Harry Christophers and The Sixteen (who on this occasion numbered 32 plus band and soprano Carolyn Sampson for the solos) in an all-Handel programme.

All four 1727 Coronation Odes (George II), interspersed with a rousing overture (Arrival of the Queen of Sheba: she got there first, I arrived too late), plus extracts from Semele, a lush 1707 Italian setting of Salve Regina and a 1735 Organ Concerto. A clever blend of the familiar and the unfamiliar and pretty much unalloyed joy.

Salve Regina (with Carolyn Sampson as soprano soloist in a demure black dress) was delightful and sensuous, with a brief, quiet coda.

The organ concerto (Alastair Ross) was apparently written to be played at performances of the oratorio Athalia, drawing on Handel's reputation as one of the finest organists of the age (according to the programme). There really wasn't much for the band to do, though it did end with a rousing Alleluia chorus to trumpet and drums accompaniment. A fizzy, showy work.

Carolyn Sampson was one wonderful form as Semele, playing the coquette in a startling backless dress. I thought she was a bit underpowered at the start, her voice getting lost in the Albert Hall's vast spaces, but she turned out to be perfect. They did three numbers: Endless Pleasure; My Racking Thoughts (a slow, reflective number sung to an unusual continuo accompaniment by cello, harp and theorbo playing a repeated, syncopated figure); and Myself I Shall Adore. For the last one Christophers handed her a mirror (the concert was televised) and she had enormous fun pouting and preening, especially in the da capo repeat with spectacular ornamentation and a positive unaccompanied cadenza at the conclusion.

The anthems build steadily to the triumphant Zadok, which made the hair stand on end just as it's supposed to. A musically-sophisticated composer who nonetheless knew how to engage an audience with directness and simplicity. Handel's choral writing at its finest.

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