Festival Music

Dunedin Consort

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce


THE difficulty with seeing Handel’s Samson as much as opera as oratorio is that for long stretches it is not very dramatic - although that might be said of a few recognised operas as well. That is especially true as the backstory unfolds in Part 1 and then again at the denouement, when all the action happens well offstage and the narrative is all recognition and reportage.

That explanation was often in the hands of Alice Coote’s Micah, not an unbiased narrator and a crucial mezzo role, in partnership with Paul Appleby in the title role. The American tenor was precise and dynamic, with immaculate diction throughout, but came into his own when faced with an adversary, whether his betraying wife Dalila (Sophie Bevan) or the Philistine giant Harapha (David Soar).

There was a particularly vocal Bevan fan in the Circle, and she was on superb form, but it is as much the character as the singer that lifts Part 2, her claims to re-found domesticity unconvincing, and the couple’s exchanges pre-figuring Coward’s Elyot and Amanda.

Dunedin Consort stalwart Matthew Brook was as reliable as ever as Manoa, Samson’s father, and John Butt’s expanded instrumental ensemble similarly superb, a very grand chamber organ (played by Stephen Farr) at the centre.

However, it was noticeable how many young singers were part of the 24-strong chorus, while tenor Hugo Hymas and soprano Louise Alder sparkled in smaller roles. Alder, of course, made her Festival debut with the Dunedin Consort two years ago as a last minute replacement for Danielle De Niese, singing Handel, and here she had cameos at the beginning and end, including a couple of a cappella moments and the score’s best known tune, Let the Bright Seraphim. Even it was outshone by the glorious choral hymn that brought the work to a conclusion.

As for Professor Butt’s authentic inclusion of movements from Handel’s organ concertos during the two intervals, I think that qualifies as a brave experiment. In his day, the composer did not have to cope with such a vast hall, well filled though it was both by the music and ticket-buyers.