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Inspiring and Memorable

Handel's oratorio 'Solomon',
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


Handel's oratorio Solomon dates from 1749, towards the end of his sequence of oratorios. It is written for particularly grand forces, double choir plus an orchestra which includes flutes, oboes, bassoons, horns, trumpets and timpani. The flutes and oboes appear in some movements together so Handel was not doubling up players in his orchestra. Given such grand forces there is a temptation for conductors to take a similarly grand, romantic 19th century view of the work. This did not apply to René Jacobs conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and English Voices at London's Barbican on Friday 7 April 2006. His approach was refreshingly lively, giving us some wonderfully brisk choruses but he did not neglect the more reflective moments.

It helped that Jacobs was conducting the extremely responsive Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Their playing was always shapely and even in the faster movements, never sounded rushed or driven. But though the orchestra was impressive, the heroes of the evening were the members of the thirty strong English Voices. The choir was originally formed by Timothy Brown from former Cambridge Choral exhibitioners and it retains a youthful membership with a commensurately bright, attractive sound. Singing with just three singers to a part on the lower three parts, the choir made a lovely, rich sound and diction was exemplary.

In fact, the diction from all concerned was impressive and we hardly needed the surtitles. This is made more significant given that the two sopranos were Swedish. Marie Arnet sang Nicaule, Queen of Sheba and the Second Harlot. Malin Christensson sang Solomon's Queen and the First Harlot; Christensson was a last minute replacement for an ailing Lisa Milne.

Both singers had a secure technique, a good feeling for Handelian line and were a pleasure to listen to. Both made significant efforts towards differing characterisations for their different parts, even going to the lengths of changing dresses between acts; a small, but significant gesture towards helping the audience separate the harlots from the queens.

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Copyright © 12 April 2006 Robert Hugill, London UK


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