Royal Albert Hall
Handel's Belshazzar is something of a Cinderella amongst his oratorios. Known to the enthusiast but rarely recorded and even more rarely performed. While the Proms performance under Sir Charles Mackerras did much to re-establish its qualities it also highlighted many of the problems.
This is a deeply serious work and, while it has a tight dramatic structure, it takes a long time for the narrative to grip. In fact it is only with the appearance of Belshazzar himself that there is any sense of joviality in the scoring. Thankfully the singers were so good that this did not matter and Rosemary Joshua's opening accompanied recitative as Nitocris was a model of accuracy and musical interest. Robert Gleadow was able to find an almost romantic characterisation for Gobrias while the two counter-tenors, Bejun Mehta and Iestyn Davies, produced finely contrasted timbre. By contract Paul Groves gave us a bluff Belshazzar, not always totally accurate, but fully characterised.
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment filled the hall with more than sufficient sound, not always the case with baroque works in the RAH, and the Choir of the Enlightenment brought vitality to the many choruses.
It is a work we need to know better – and one which would be worth staging given the enthusiasm at present for so doing.
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