Dunedin Consort & Polish Radio Choir

ICE Congress Centre, Krakow

Keith Bruce


AS far as we currently know, only bass Matthew Brook from this Easter Sunday concert will be present among the line-up of soloists when Edinburgh hears John Butt’s interpretation of Handel’s Samson at the Festival in August. And with organ interludes filling the intervals, as was apparently the case at its 1743 London premiere, that promises to be a rather different evening.

It also begins at the more sensible time of 6pm, while this showpiece of Krakow’s Misteria Paschalia festival (of which Professor Butt was this year’s guest director) started at eight, which meant a midnight finish. Samson is long - about an hour longer than Messiah, which Handel wrote immediately before it - and, with a narrative that expresses itself in flashback until the final part, for a long time nothing very much happens.

That leap to the present tense, however, where Brook - singing Samson’s father, Manoach - is interrupted by the instrumentalists expressing the destruction happening elsewhere, is far from the only dramatic moment in the work. Nor are the tenor aria Total eclipse! and the soprano showstopper Let the bright seraphim the only fine Handel melodies in the score - although James Way, a slightly-built Samson, and Fflur Wyn made the very most of both of those.

With a total of eight soloists, eight Dunedin singers joined by 20 from the Polish Radio Choir, and an orchestra with four cellos and eleven fiddles, this was surely the largest Dunedin Consort ever assembled, and Butt had his forces perfectly balanced throughout. Save for the intonation of the two natural horns at the start, the instrumental playing was superb, and the continuo for the recitative-heavy score immaculate. Young chorusmaster Maria Piotrowska-Bogalecka has her singers very well-drilled too, and their enunciation was as clear as that of the soloists, where mezzo Caitlin Hulcup, in the role of Micah, Samson’s friend and - it sometimes seems - Jiminy Cricket-like conscience, was also worthy of special mention.