Handel originally wrote the oratorio Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, HWV 46a in 1707, and provided a second revised and expanded version, renamed Il trionfo del Tempo e della Verita, HWV 46b, in 1737. In 1757, a full fifty years after the first incarnation and only two years before he died, further revisions produced an English language account The Triumph of Time and Truth, HWV 71. By this point, with his failing eyesight, Handel was writing no new music, which is why Jephtha of 1751 is still considered his true last oratorio. This did, not, however, stop him from revising or recycling things he had already written and in this instance it seems that Thomas Morrell reworked the libretto into English while John Christopher Smith Jr, under Handel’s instruction, assembled the score.
The oratorio, which is arguably less challenging to listen to than many, provides an allegorical tale in which the four characters of Time, Counsel (Truth), Pleasure and Deceit strive to win the allegiance of the fifth Beauty, with the title giving away the result.
This performance was delivered by Instruments of Time and Truth, a new period instrument ensemble whose very name derives from this oratorio. The 21-strong ensemble, although small by the standards of some that perform Handel today, probably reflected the numbers for a typical eighteenth century performance and, in the relatively small Hall One at King’s Place, filled the space very easily. Under the baton of Edward Higginbottom, the playing was extremely smooth, although in this venue it could feel a little overbearing on occasions. Even here, however, the actual balance across the orchestra was never compromised and, when the quality of sound was as good as this, it was hardly a major cause for complaint.
Although the plot, if it can be called that, is flimsy at best, it does provide for five strong characters, and the soloists really entered into the spirit of the piece, with Pleasure blowing a kiss to the chorus at the end of ‘Dryads, Sylvans, with fair Flora’, Counsel slamming a mirror to the ground as he sang ‘Flattering mirror, thee I throw thee’, and everyone constantly eyeing each other up as they jostled for supremacy.
As Beauty, Katherine Crompton produced an extremely sweet and accurate sound that, through her sensitive and considered approach to lines, showed how she was naturally inclined to want to believe Pleasure, but also had the dignity to accept the truth of Counsel and Time. Alexander Chance as Counsel revealed an extremely persuasive countertenor that was imbued with purity, and yet had the flexibility to constantly alter the weight and colour of the sound within each line. As Time, Matthew Brook, with his warm and strong bass, conveyed an ease that derived from his character embracing reality while others struggled to accept it. Nick Pritchard revealed a smooth tenor as befitting Pleasure’s character, while Mhairi Lawson as Deceit displayed a supple and striking soprano.
The 16-strong chorus, comprising the Oxford Consort of Voices in which all four altos were men, was also excellent. If, as with the orchestra, there were times when its sound was a little unrelenting, it was never to the detriment of its quality or focus. Particularly impressive were the soloists who came from within it, with the section in which a sextet sang, either alone, in trios or altogether, proving immensely satisfying.
For details of all of the ensemble’s future events, visit the Instruments of Time and Truth website.