Complex emotions delivered with artful control
Saturday 23 June 2012
Finchley Choral Society
St Pancras Church, Euston Road
Just one work for Finchley Choral Society's programme in the beautiful Greece inspired church on the Euston Road - the one with the four big ladies holding up part of the roof with their heads. Jephtha, first performed in 1752, is not Handel's best known work, but all of Saturday's audience would agree that it certainly deserves wider attention.
A biblical tale, Jephtha vows to the Lord that for help in smiting his enemies (full match report in Judges XI 30 -33) he will sacrifice the first living thing he sees after the fracas. Sadly, this turns out to be his devoted, innocent daughter Iphis. Naturally Jephtha is beside himself when he realises she is for the chop, but, with the timely intervention of an Angel, the sentence is commuted to life-long chastity (an arrangement which leaves her warrior admirer Hamor a tad ambivalent!).
The work is seen by some as a study in ".. the fragility of youth and life itself, the necessity of submission to destiny ...". That may well be so, but in tackling these monumental themes Handel produced some monumentally beautiful music.
Soloist Stephen Jeffes plays Jephtha and delivers a quite astonishing performance. I had felt that he had underplayed his realisation of the consequences of his bargain with the Lord ( ".. hide me earth,in thy dark womb."). Instead, Stephen was carefully building up an emotional tension that he brilliantly sustained for an hour. His delivery of "Waft her angels, through the skies" was, in itself, angelic.
Robust support came from the other soloists and Natalie Clifton-Griffith as Iphis was an inspired casting.
As one comes to expect in biblical epics, there are some corking lines: at one stage in the battle the heavens open ".. and poured forth thousands of armed cherubims." Armed cherubims?
By the end of the evening the audience, most of them drawn to the concert by the Chorus, was on its feet applauding. From the start, supported by the excellent Florian Chamber Orchestra, they sparked into light - alert and eager to please their marvellous conductor Grace Rossiter. All through the challenging libretto, they were able to demonstrate their growing maturity and confidence in delivering complex emotional messages with nuanced intensity and control.
It was unfortunate that we didn't hear more of them. Jephtha has nearly fifty distinct passages - only nine were written for the chorus.
Sadly, nothing more from FCS until 1 December - www.finchleychoral.org.uk
David Winskill. Ham and High.
FCS Summer Concert 2012
Available from FCS Box Office: 0207 263 3358
98 Fortis Green Rd. N10 3HN. 0208 883 5631
Saturday 4th July 2009
Finchley choral Society
Handel – Dixit Dominus; Vivaldi- Gloria
What a beautiful place for beautiful music. The Chorus and the Florian Chamber Orchestra were arranged under the colourful stained glass of the west window as it let in the rays from the setting sun of a perfect summer’s day.
The two hundred or so souls that had struggled to park in the crowded Hampstead streets were rewarded with some marvellously performed heavenly music. Luckily, because of a relatively low turn out, we all got central aisle seats.
Handel’s Dixit Dominus was launched with great enthusiasm and joy by the choir. The second movement (Virgam virtutis) gave alto Tom Williams the opportunity to shine in a duet with the organ. This was followed by a magnificent, flowing soprano solo from the excellent Tara Bungard. By the end of the gymnastic Tu es sacerdos the whole choir was beaming with delight at the beauty they had just helped to create.
The final three movement were amazing. After the crochet working of the “conquassabit” the two soprano’s, with beautifully complimentary voices, gave the De Torrente. In the finale – the Gloria Patri - there was so much going on here that it was difficult to keep track of the ebbs and flows of the different parts of the choir – an amazing and uplifting experience.
After an lengthy interval (and educational trip round the graveyard) we reassembled for Vivaldi’s Gloria. Like his Four seasons, this must be one of the most quoted pieces in the classical music canon. Bits are always popping up in films, documentaries and TV ads. Hearing the piece in its entirety is a reminder of what a work of genius and beauty it is.
And, having it performed in a building whose construction started only thirty years after it was written (1715), added to the wonder of the piece.
The choir and orchestra gave the audience the wonderfully energetic start that they were anticipating – the sopranos were brilliant in the Handel and we were not disappointed as they offered a breathtaking Laudamus Te.
And so the rest of the performance continued – joyous, uplifting and beautiful All from a chorus and orchestra inspired by the beauty of the music and the sheer joy of performance.
David Winskill. Ham and High.