Handel’s Samson was performed by the Sunshine Coast Choral Society on Saturday night, October 4th, at the Maroochy Baptist Centre in Wises Road. The conductor, Adrian King, did not let a mere trifle of a recent detached retina get in the way of this performance, which he conducted in his usual dynamic way.
It was a splendid opportunity for Coast audiences to hear this work, considered to be Handel’s finest dramatic oratorio, for the first time.
The oratorio commences not at the beginning of Samson’s life, but near its tragic end. Samson, blind and in chains, is led from the Philistine prison in Gaza on the day of a festival to honour Dagon, the god of the Philistines. The oratorio portrays Samson’s agony, the rivalry of the Israelites and the Philistines, Samson’s death, and the mourning and then jubilation of the Israelites over their hero’s triumph over their enemies despite his sacrifice of himself.
Tenor, Neil Mason, was a convincing Samson. His “Why should I live?” was full of pathos. His aria, “Total eclipse, no sun, no moon”, bemoaning his blindness, was particularly poignant.
Michael Strasser, bass, who sang the role of Samson’s father, Manoah, captured the sensitivity of his role and sings of his anguish as a father seeing his son in such pain. Manoah comforts Samson who expresses a longing to die and escape his misery in the aria “It should be so … Why should I live?”. He also sang the part of Harapha, a giant of Gath and worshipper of Dagon. He interpreted these roles expressively and with ease.
Harapha requests Samson to entertain the Philistine crowds at the festivities, warning him that failure to attend would result in dire consequences. Samson finally agrees to go. He uses his strength to bring down the temple, killing 3,000 of the enemy and himself at the same time. All hell breaks loose and an Israelite messenger appears to report that Samson is dead.
Soprano, Anita Parakh-Morgan, sang the role of Delilah, the woman who betrayed her husband for gold. Despite having caused his loss of strength, and capture by the Philistines who blinded him by pushing out his eyes with hot pokers, she avowed her love for him. Not surprisingly she was rejected by Samson in their lively duet, “My wife, my mistress, let her not come near me …”. Her beautiful voice was heard in no less than three roles, and her solo, “Let the Bright Seraphim” with trumpeter, Warren Brewer, was a highlight of the evening.
The role of Micah, Samson’s friend, was sung by counter tenor, David Muller. This promising young singer was clearly out of his depth. The vocal range demanded in this role was out of his comfort zone, resulting in higher notes sounding flat. His quality of tone was also disappointing but he did capture the rhythm and interpretation of ornaments.
Curiously Handel scored the role of Samson as a tenor, and Micah as an alto (sometimes sung by females as in my recording). Do I incorrectly associate bass with strength?
The orchestra performed well, underpinning the entire performance, despite a wobbly start from the rather too dominant horns. The strings were particularly busy throughout, and the oboes contributed some exquisite textures and harmonies. Various people commented to me at the interval that they couldn’t see the organ, but then realized that it was a box-like structure perched between the double bass and winds. How electronic instruments have progressed in their authenticity in recent times!
The choir was in fine form for this exciting first for the Coast. Their chorus work continues to go from strength to strength. More male singers have now joined, and their input was clearly audible, adding greatly to the balance of voices.
“Fixed in his everlasting seat Jehovah! Great Dagon … is of Gods the first and last”with full orchestra, chorus and soloists was an impressive end to the first part – and the final jubilant chorus, “Let their celestial trumpets all unite. Ever to sound his praise in endless morn of light” was inspiring and uplifting.
The audience responded enthusiastically, by keeping up their applause until all the choristers left the hall.
Congratulations go to all concerned, including Arts Queensland and the Sunshine Coast Regional Council, who supported this worthy venture with a Regional Arts Development Fund grant. It is most encouraging to see government support for cultural activities which so enhance the quality of life for residents of this region interested in dimensions of life other than sport!
Adrian King, in less than two years, has established himself as a much-loved choirmaster and conductor. He inspires a contagious enthusiasm with the members who all are obviously enjoying the experience.He will be conducting the Noosa Chorale on Saturday 11th at St Marks and Sunday, 12th at the Bicentennial Hall at Noosa in a wonderful program of music by Faure.
Lake Kawana Community Centre was packed on Sunday June 15th for the Sunshine Coast Choral Society’s first concert for 2008. The program comprised just two items, by the contemporary English composer, John Rutter.
The first, Mass of the Children was written by Rutter two years after the tragic and sudden death of his university student son, Christopher, in an accident. A choir of 52 children from the Matthew Flinders Anglican College (mainly from the Junior School), and trained by Genevieve Bignell was heard singing at times alone and also with the adult choir. Their fresh and beautiful voices reminded me of the innocence and vulnerability of children in this day and age. It is also comforting to know that this school on the Sunshine Coast teaches and encourages children to sing such wonderfully complex classical music in this age of popular culture.
Adrian King conducted this enormously challenging, marvelous music, with its constantly shifting harmonies, key and timing changes, with impeccable style and charisma. The choir is seriously devoid of male singers, but somehow it seemed to work with so few of them.
Soloists Anita Parakh-Morgan, soprano and Brett Holland, bass, gave very convincing performances, especially in the Finale. Anita’s many high notes were pure, effortless and quite inspiring.
One critic has described the music as “an irresistible work, full of flowing melodies, catchy rhythms and pop-tinged harmonies”. It is all of this and more. The soaring vocal lines in the final moments are chilling!
The highly professional Sunshine Coast Chamber Ensemble, minus the violins and violas, accompanied the singers. The harp (Janice Preece) played an integral part and there were some lovely flute solos from Julie Dean, with cymbals, tympani and organ adding to the grandeur of the music. The balance between instruments and choirs was spot on.
After the interval we were treated to a thrilling performance of the highly acclaimed Magnificat, based on the text from the Gospel of St Luke, Chapter 1 verses 46 – 55. It is a much-loved hymn of praise to God given by the Virgin Mary acknowledging that she was to become the mother of Jesus Christ.
Rutter had observed that in countries such as Spain, Mexico and Puerto Rico feast days of the Virgin are celebrated in the streets with singing, dancing and processions. He had this in mind when composing this music, using cymbals, tympani and percussion to great effect. One does not normally associate these instruments with sacred music.
The strings joined the Ensemble for this work, completing a rich texture of sound.
Anita Parakh-Morgan was the only soloist – with a particularly poignant interpretation. The concluding movement, was a truly joyful, exciting and inspiring conclusion with a long crescendo to a glorious climax.
How fortunate we are to have a conductor of such vision, and a choral society who are prepared to learn this difficult and complex music so successfully. Adrian King has a wealth of experience of the English cathedral choral tradition and working with school children. His initiative in introducing this little heard repertoire to the Sunshine Coast and the Choral Society’s willingness to support the initiative, shows just how far the choir has progressed. The public loved it.