Thursday, January 30, 2014

Handel’s Theodora

Last weekend a friend invited me on a field trip to Weill Hall at Sonoma State to hear The English Concert perform Handel’s Theodora. The performance was very proficient. Conductor Harry Bicket led from a harpsichord, & the orchestra of 25 played with impressively tight ensemble & clean intonation. The strings’ 32nd notes during “Kind Heav’n” were astonishingly neat & together, & leader Nadja Zwiener displayed effortless virtuosity in “Sweet rose and lily.” The brass & wind players sometimes stood for their solos. Maestro Bicket often connected the numbers, & the performance flowed at an even pace.

Countertenor David Daniels as Didymus was an expressive singer & had a dense, muscular sound. Soprano Dorothea Röschmann had a somewhat metallic sound & sang with nice rubato. Mezzo Sarah Connolly was solid, weighty & serious as Theodora’s companion Irene. Tenor Kurt Streit, replacing the originally announced Andrew Kennedy, was a bright & urgent singer. I liked the mocking way he sang “Mistaken wretches! ... Dread the fruits of Christian folly.” At one point he picked up a page of music that had fallen to the floor & placed in on the conductor’s harpsichord. Bass-baritone Neal Davies was appropriately blustery & barking as the tyrant Valens. The youthful 24 member Choir of Trinity Wall Street was great. I liked their grounded, warm & cushy sound. They portrayed a very human chorus.

Weill Hall photo IMG_20140125_192429_zpsbdb8285e.jpgMy concert companion & I sat in the center of the balcony, where it was easy to hear all the musicians, even the theorbo player, though somehow the sound from the stage never seemed quite hall-filling. The concert ran nearly 4 hours, including 2 short intermissions which the printed program failed to specify. The audience was very quiet throughout & even let the silence linger at the conclusion of each part. There was major audience attrition after part 2, but those that remained gave the performers sustained applause & a standing ovation. The online listing mistakenly labels the event as “An Opera in Concert.”

§ Handel's Theodora
The English Concert
Harry Bicket, conductor

Dorothea Röschmann, Theodora
Sarah Connolly, Irene
David Daniels, Didymus
Kurt Streit, Septimius
Neal Davies, Valens

The Choir of Trinity Wall Street
Julian Wachner, director

Saturday, January 25, 7:30 pm
Weill Hall at Sonoma State University


David Lasson said...

I heard this program in Carnegie Hall with the same forces earlier today. As an admirer of Handel's oratorios, I am obliged to confess that I resent that all I got for my four-hour commitment was a "proficient" performance.

During the Christmas season, I had the opportunity to hear Julian Wachner conduct this chorus in several programs of Bach cantatas, and the performances ranged from outstanding to merely great; I only wish he had been fully in charge this afternoon.

But hearing a proficient performance of Theodora is still better than watching the Super Bowl, and not too many denizens of Carnegie Hall headed for the exits during the second intermission; rather, they stayed to hear the final part of the program, after which they rewarded the performers with a rather better than proficient ovation.

Axel Feldheim said...

Thanks for sharing your reactions to the Carnegie Hall performance. The chorus was my favorite part, so I'd love to hear them again under a different conductor. The afternoon time is probably better for such a long work. I think it was just getting too late for the elderly members of the Sonoma audience.