Handel’s Solomon is rarely performed, not least because it requires five good soloists and a big chorus, plus a fine orchestra and a good conductor. Fortunately, we have all of those elements at the Usher Hall tonight. Firstly, we have Peter Dijkstra, a fine Dutch conductor who specialises in choral conducting, and is a professor of choral conducting in Cologne. He is in perfect control of a large 50-strong SCO and 60-strong chorus, bringing them in exactly on time, and blending them in with the excellent soloists.
Secondly, we have five very good soloists, beginning with Maarten Engeltjes, a young Dutch countertenor, singing Solomon. Now, good countertenors are thin on the ground, the less successful ones producing unpleasant hooting sounds as they force their voice. Engeltjes produces a very relaxed, natural, sweet melodic voice that conveys the nuances of the text perfectly.
He is perfectly complemented by his Queen, the fine young English soprano Elizabeth Watts ,who made her name when she won the recital song prize at Cardiff Singer of the World in 2007, and has since been building her career in opera and lieder singing. She produces a lovely melodic interpretation of the Queen while dressed in white, and later dressed in black, a very convincing harlot.
Anna Dennis is an excellent soprano support as the Queen of Sheba and the first harlot, Joshua Ellicot is a superb lyric tenor as Zadoc and the attendant, and Ashley Riches is an excellent bass baritone as a Levite.
Handel’s Solomon, although classed as an oratorio, often displays Handel’s talent as an opera composer, with some very good arias for the soloists. However, what makes it an oratorio is the way Handel uses the chorus in the story telling. The SCO Chorus, under the experienced direction of Gregory Batsleer, respond magnificently to the conductor, and complemented the fine soloists.
The SCO musicians are as usual in fine form, and the evening speeds by. Some Handel operas go on too long, with many arias, and can often last as much as four hours, but the just over two hours for Solomon is just right. It gets a very warm response form the big Usher Hall audience. This is luxury casting, and a superb performance of a great work.