The Organ

Handel's Theodora

Buxton Musical Society
St John's Church, Buxton
13th November 2005

Glyndebourne's production went a long way to re-establishing Theodora as the finest thing Handel wrote but does it work equally as well without the galvanising impact of the Sellars' staging. A performance in St John's Buxton helped to highlight the dramatic intensity of the writing while at the same time the potential for confusion when the audience does not have the full text. Whereas on stage the action is clear-cut, static oratorio can too easily become a succession of beautiful numbers - the last thing Handel surely wanted.

Though the chorus are important to the emotional context of the narrative, it is the soloists who carry most of the weight and here Michael Williams and his forces were very fortunate. Nicholas Mulroy was magnificent as Septimus - the coloratura lucid and flowing, ornamentation always apt - an ideal Handelian voice. Helen Groves and David Gould were well matched as the condemned pair, bringing fine emotional contrasts and intensity without any loss of beauty of line. Susanna Spicer's Irene and David Wright's Valens impressed, creating a dramatic intensity which lasted the evening.

Choral singing was accurate and positive in attack, with excellent balance, responding well to Michael Williams' positive approach to the score. I could have wished for more colour within the ensemble but realistically the limited rehearsal time undermines any potential for creative exploration of the score. The sudden bassoon solo towards the end of the work was delightful and it would have been good to have heard more of this sort of musical texture.

Then we come to the problem of the organ. I know this is a hobby-horse of mine but it really will not do to present a Handel oratorio without organ when not only is there an instrument in the building which - with subtle registration - could have been used, and the orchestral texture would have been greatly enhanced by it. Recent Handel recordings have, I am glad to note, increasingly highlighted the importance of the organ and Nikolaus Harnoncourt's new Messiah is a model of sensitivity and courage. We don't want to return to over-blown romantic readings but we do need to experience the full-blooded score which Handel wrote.