Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Solomon review – rip-roaring performance of Handel at Ripon Cathedral

16 March 2024

The wisdom of Solomon is demonstrated by the Ripon Choral Society, Orchestra d’Amici and soloists.


Solomon (Photo: Marc Eskenazi)

‘Swell, swell the full chorus in Solomon’s praise…’ and so Ripon Choral Society did, the full might of Handel’s 8-part choral splendour ringing out through Ripon Cathedral. This choir of around 130 singers rehearses just once a week under the baton of its conductor John Dunford, and the sound they make is far more polished than you might expect from a community choir. Dunford takes an enthusiastic and inspiring attitude to his work, and the choir respond with unerring musical accuracy and forthright attack.

They are greatly aided in this by the playing of Orchestra d’Amici, which was founded in the 1980s among a group of local professional musicians. Drawn from all the larger northern orchestras and the freelance community, these impressive players gave a splendid account of Handel’s complex orchestration, supporting the singers with sensitivity and displaying much dramatic cohesion. Special mention should be made of the playing of the bassoon and viola parts, which add so much resonance to the whole.

The soloists were led by the elegant, patrician counter-tenor William Towers, whose Solomon had just the right aura of grandeur to suggest the king’s wisdom and power. He gave a poetic account of ‘What though I trace each herb and flow’r’ and his diction throughout was superb, especially when describing ‘The secret dictates of the human heart’.

“…the sound they make is far more polished than you might expect from a community choir”

The other soloists were not quite in the same league, although Jane Burnell coped very well with the parts of both Queen of Sheba and First Harlot, giving a vivid account of ‘Can I see my infant gor’d’, and one would have liked to hear more of Julianne Coates’ Second Harlot. The tenor Nicholas Watts was to have tackled the demanding role of Zadok, but he was ill and so it fell to Peter Wilman to take it on; unsurprisingly he was challenged by ‘Sacred Raptures cheer my breast’ but he communicated the recitatives with style. Adam Green’s stentorian tones were well suited to the bass part.

Ripon Choral Society’s season consists of four concerts in the glorious surroundings of Ripon Cathedral, and you can catch their final one of this year on 15 June, when they will be joined once again by Orchestra d’Amici for Mozart’s Requiem and John Rutter’s Feel the Spirit.

• Details can be found here.

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Solomon review – rip-roaring performance of Handel at Ripon Cathedral