Scottish Chamber Orchestra

Handel’s Theodora, Friday 23 October, City Halls, Glasgow

Miranda Heggie, Four stars

WITH a performance both moving and thought-provoking, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra gave a thorough interpretation of Handel’s Theodora, a work considered by the composer to be the greatest of his oratorios, and one which tells of the unfortunate plight of the 4th century Christian Martyr Theodora and her equally ill-fated lover Didymus.
Under the expert command of Harry Bickett, who had stepped in to conduct with very short notice, the orchestra beautifully portrayed the anguish of the tale, with a distilled passion permeating through Handel’s exquisitely layered score. Directing the music from the harpsichord, his innate understanding of the work is evident as he commanded the orchestra with deftness and poise.
The quintet of vocal soloists gave compelling performances, each bringing a unique dimension to their character. 
Countertenor Iestyn Davies proved himself to be a true master of his craft, singing with a stunningly sublime tone, perfectly suited to the music. The juxtaposition of a full, rich sound from the orchestra, with natural horns cutting through the strings like pealing bells, to the clean simplicity of just continuo and theorbo to accompany Davies’ heavenly singing was particularly effective.
 Soprano Stefanie True sang the role of Theodora with a sweet and clear voice, with flawless control, while Neal Davies gave a powerful portrayal of the president of Antioch, Valens who sentences Theodora to her death. Croatian mezzo-soprano Renata Pokupic sang the role of Theodora’s companion Irene with a rich and velvety voice, although her dramatic style sometimes sounded a little over-romantic for the period.