Handel’s Alexander’s Feast is an oratorio to a text by Newburgh Hamilton based closely on an earlier Dryden St. Cecilia’s Day ode. The basic plot is that Alexander is feasting in captured Persepolis with his mistress Thaïs. Inflamed by the music of Timotheus he decides to burn down the city in revenge for his fallen soldiers. Cecilia descends from Heaven and substitutes music for the king’s barbarous intentions. There are solo and choral numbers and a couple of duets and there are two concerti; one for triple harp representing Timotheus’ lyre playing and an organ concerto for St. Cecilia. It’s all quite tuneful and interesting if not as inspired as some of the better known oratorios.
Last night Tafelmusik gave the first of a run of four performances at Koerner Hall. The tenor soloist, who perhaps has most to do, was Thomas Hobbs. He was pretty much ideal for the role. He has a very pleasant, accurate voice with power enough for this context. He articulates clearly and he can ornament when needed. This was all apparent right from the beginning in the air Happy, happy, happy pair which may well be the only part of this piece that many people will have heard. Soprano Amanda Forsythe was engaging too with accurate coloratura and a very expressive delivery. She has a lovely air; The Prince, unable to conceal his pain, at the end of Part 1. Besides a complex vocal line it features a very beautiful accompaniment for solo violin (Cristina Zacharias, I think) and continuo. The trio was rounded out by Alexander Dobson singing the bass part. He has a lot of sitting around to do but he does get one full on da capo aria in Part 2; Revenge, revenge, Timotheus cries. He made the most of it with a powerful, full throttle treatment complete with proper ornaments in the repeat.
The harp concerto is an interesting three movement piece played with great feeling by Julia Seager-Scott. The organ concerto I found less interesting. Oddly, perhaps, because it was encored by command of the king at the premiere. Still it was virtuosic enough. I’ve misplaced the name of the organist who was a late substitute, the originally scheduled performer being sick. Orchestra and choir both sounded terrific, especially the valveless brass who were on fine form. Ivars Taurins conducted in his usual kinetic fashion.
All in all, it’s nice to be able to hear a not so well known Handel oratorio performed on an appropriate scale by such idiomatic performers. Alexander’s Feast continues at Koerner Hall with performances tonight and Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3.30pm.
No photos from last night so head shots of the soloists.