Bach Musica NZ’s Samson reminded us of the imposing stature of Handel’s oratorios.
While purists may query some of the night’s cuts, Rita Paczian, with choir, orchestra, and strong-voiced soloists, compressed this composer’s singular genius into just over two hours.
Samson delivers some high-voltage drama and, having experienced a gripping operatic production, I inevitably approach a choral performance with particular expectations.
Andrew Grenon’s beautifully modulated tenor served him well in Samson’s celebrated airs, but an anguished hero did not emerge from his opening recitative.
Recitatives, in general, needed more urgency and conviction.
Not so when Herman Theron’s Messenger brought news of Samson’s death, sparking an engaged interaction with Katie Trigg’s Micah and Joel Amosa’s Manoah. Trigg’s subsequent aria glowed with presence, and Amosa, after some of the evening’s most sensitive singing, offered eloquent reconciliation in his “Come come, no time for lamentation”.
Little wonder that in such a potentially theatrical work, set pieces stood out.
Joanna Foote’s Delilah was responsible for two, before she and trumpeter Stephen Bemleman triumphed in “Let the bright seraphim”.
Having sweetly duetted with violinist Miranda Hutton in “With plaintive notes and am’rous moan”, Foote made even sweeter harmonies with that fine soprano Emma Roxburgh in “Her faith and truth, O Samson, prove”.
The indefatigable Paczian, dashing off harpsichord continuo in between wielding a baton, her gold top echoing the scarves of the women choristers, handled the choral forces with her customary discipline, whether in scurrying fugues or primal Handelian splendour.
Bach Musica NZ has suffered more than many concert-giving organisations in these pandemic times and tonight we were alerted to the impact that had been felt, especially in the orchestral ranks. Yet, there was no shortage of memorable colours, especially from Alison Dunlop and Alison Jepson’s piquant oboes and Peter Watts’ chamber organ, promoted to a starring role in a short and noble dead march.
By William Dart