Saturday, May 16, 2009
Gorgeous George's Gorgeous Choruses
The San Francisco Symphony is performing an all-Handel concert this week marking the 250th anniversary of the composer's death in England.
The 18th century German composer is something of an acquired taste, but once acquired, his music is addictive. After an apprenticeship in Germany and Italy, he emigrated to the riches of London in 1714. He composed close to an opera a year, then biblical oratorios after Italian opera fell out of favor in England, along with a whole range of instrumental works. (The photo collage above is taken from one of my favorite music blogs, "Soho The Dog," where Matthew Guerrieri decided while reading a biography of the wrestler Gorgeous George that Handel shared many of the same flamboyant qualities. Click here for more.)
The problem with performing much of Handel in modern symphony halls or opera houses is that the buildings are too big for the music which tends to get swallowed up. Thankfully, that wasn't a problem for this week's program because most of the music was written for huge choruses to be performed in large public spaces, starting with three of the four coronation anthems written for King George II after Handel's original patron, George I, died in 1727.
The Quebec conductor Bernard Labadie (above right) conducted crisply, and inserted an organ concerto into the middle of the coronation anthems, which was a nice palate cleanser but the playing by organist Richard Pare (above left) sounded a bit tentative and dull, so it was nice to have the chorus blazing back to end the first half of the program with "The King Shall Rejoice."
At intermission, we all agreed with the Opera Tattler (above, looking glamorous) that the concert so far was a mixture of the thrilling and dull.
There were no such reservations about the "Dettingen Te Deum" in the second half, though, where a couple of us moved into a pair of empty seats in the front row so we could feel like we were sitting in the middle of the reduced orchestra. The performance was smashing and the 14-movement piece which I had never heard before was extraordinarily beautiful.
There were three young Canadian soloists, the countertenor Matthew White, the tenor Frederic Antoun, and the baritone Joshua Hopkins (from right to left, above) who were all perfectly adequate, and in the case of Hopkins quite wonderful. Antoun only had a couple of lines to sing, but he certainly was handsome, which seemed like a gift to the audience.