Samson - Handel
Review by Lawrence Tomlinson:
The Penrith Singers' concert on Sunday evening, held in St. Andrew's Church, was devoted to the music of Handel. Not the seasonal sounds of "Messiah", but of the work he composed immediately after, the oratorio "Samson". At the time, in 1743, it proved to be the more popular, maybe because of its operatic character. The piece dramatises Samson's final days - a blinded captive of the Philistines - who is to destroy their temple, burying himself and his enemies in the ruins.
Composed for five soloists, choir and orchestra, as the story unfolds Handel develops each character through recitative and aria, the choir playing the role of Israelites and Philistines.The opening chorus, with a maginicent trumpet obligato, began with the choir singing at a lively tempo. As throughout the evening they were at their best, all four parts strong and clear and sopranos bright sounding. In the more contrapuntal choruses, entries of parts were sure, and we really sensed their pleading to Israel's God in "Hear, Jacob's God" and "With thunder armed great God arise."
However, the soloists would play the major role. We were introduced to Samson, Richard Pollock (tenor), from the beginning. How sensitively he sang. Each note, each phrase, was telling, from his first recitative, "This day a solemn feast to Dagon held". His aria as the blind Samson sings, "Total eclipse! no sun, no moon", was wonderful.
Philip Smith (baritone) sang the part of Manoah, Samson's father, with a very sure, full and rounded tone. His singing of "How willing my paternal love, the weight to share" was admirable, and "O lastly over-strong against thyself" quite moving. Michael Parle sang to great effect with his resounding bass befitting Harapha, the giant of Gath, as he taunts the blind Samson, "Honour and arms scorn such a foe".
What a glorious soprano voice is that of Emma Peaurt, a warm tone as in "My faith and truth, O Samson prove", but also powerful and clear, as when she sang the familiar "Let the bright Seraphim", again with the superb trumpet obligato of Stella Fitzgerald.
The orchestra (leader Susan Johnson) was up to the task, allowing the conductor, Colin Marston, to bring the most out of the whole performance, and that was so necessary for a work of such dramatic power. Blessed with such soloists, a chorus at its best, a competent orchestra ably supported throughout by Ian Hare (harpsichord), the audience were clearly involved and attentive, helped by the programme providing the words of all the pieces. The final resounding applause, and the stamping of feet, was an instinctive response by all of us who were present, as to the excellence of the evening's performance.