Harry Christophers and The Sixteen present a judiciously chosen selection of Handel’s works to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death.
Is there a finer choir in the land than The Sixteen? On the basis of this glorious celebration of Handel’s genius, probably not. Their singing is at one with Handel’s idiom and amongst an evening of many musical gems the undoubted highlights were the choir’s performance of all four of the composer’s Coronation Anthems written for the coronation of George II in Westminster Abbey on 11 October 1727.
Beginning with a rapt and intense performance of Let they hand be strengthened they went on to produce firm, polished singing in My heart is inditing, sang with verve in The King shall rejoice and crowned the evening with a sensational rendition of Zadok the Priest, one of Handel’s most popular works. Does any other choral anthem have a better introduction? Here Christophers kept the orchestra at a relatively sedate piano right up to the choral explosion with the words ‘Zadok the Priest’ and the result was spine-tingling.
The concert began with a sparkling performance of The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba but even with such a well-known piece there was plenty to marvel at anew thanks to the spirited playing and phrasing of The Sixteen orchestra. Carolyn Sampson was the delightful soloists in a series of excerpts from Semele, Handel’s bawdy oratorio/opera whose near-the-knuckle libretto ruffled many 18th century feathers when first performed. She was the personification of coquettishness in ‘Endless pleasure’ and threw off the vocal cascades and roulades of ‘Myself I shall adore’ with consummate ease, all whilst preening herself in a mirror. A truly winning performance. She returned after the interval to deliver a rapt, introspective performance of Salve Regina an early Handel work that was receiving its premiere at the Proms.
Another work receiving its premiere at the Proms was the Organ Concerto in F Major in the original version which ends with a choral ‘Alleluia’. Alastair Ross was the engaging soloist who produced some virtuoso playing on the Baroque organ, whilst the ‘Alleluia’ chorus which concluded the work was not only proof of Handel’s originality as a composer, but of his genius too. A wonderful concert and a fitting tribute in this anniversary year.