Classical and Opera Reviews

Joshua @ St John’s, Smith Square, London

17 November 2017


Joanna Tomlinson

Handel’s Joshua of 1747 was the oratorio for which ‘See, the conqu’ring hero comes!’ was originally written. Although that chorus may be better known now for appearing in Judas Maccabaeus, which was actually written a year earlier, it was only inserted into that oratorio after it had enjoyed initial success. This rousing chorus is illustrative of just how varied the music in Joshua can be, as it explores the victories and defeats of the Israelites after they have entered Canaan following their years in the wilderness, and includes a personal love story between Achsah, the daughter of the chief warrior Caleb, and the young soldier Othniel.

This performance from the Whitehall Choir and London Baroque Sinfonia, under the baton of Joanna Tomlinson, showed great prowess in displaying to the full the sheer variety of music that is on offer. The playing as a whole, however, was characterised by a lightness and delicacy that gave the piece a sprightly sense of forward momentum. Some strong choices regarding the placement of singers and instrumentalists handed the presentation an appropriate sense of theatricality, and also maximised on certain intended musical effects. For example, the Angel (choir member Alice Farrow delivering very strongly) sang from the gallery of St John’s, Smith Square, while the trumpeter signalling the conquest of Jericho was also positioned there.

The flautists and brass players required for certain arias and choruses played from the outermost edges of the orchestra, which allowed their lines to stand out and thus emphasise the celebratory or beautiful nature of the music. This produced particular dividends in Achsah’s air ‘Hark! ‘tis the linnet and the thrush’, which is accompanied by solo flute and violin imitating the birds. ‘O thou bright orb, great ruler of the day!’ was also executed effectively, as the violins’ long note really gave the impression of being suspended in mid-air as it signified the sun and moon standing still during the course of a battle. The cello and continuo playing of Mark Caudle and Ian Tindale respectively was also particularly fine.

The Whitehall Choir clearly showed how well prepared it was, while the soloists were well chosen. Greg Tassell’s strong and assertive tenor as Joshua contrasted well with James Oldfield’s robust yet warm bass-baritone in the role of Caleb. Joseph Bolger revealed a highly aesthetically pleasing countertenor as Othniel while, as Achsah, Miriam Allan displayed an extremely sweet, lithe and beautiful soprano.

For details of all its recordings and forthcoming events visit the Whitehall Choir website.


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Joshua @ St John’s, Smith Square, London