Handel Around the World

Handel Around the World
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
Steven Devine, director, Ian Bostridge, tenor
Queen Elizabeth Hall. 1 February 2023

Handel Around the World was originally intended to be the title of an Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment concert tour that extended into Asia but political and other issues meant that was cancelled. This concert, now part of the OAE’s Songs of Travel series, is a compilation of some of the pieces that were to have been performed during that tour. Compiled by Ian Bostridge and OAE colleagues, the selection of arias from Handel operas and oratorios covered quite a bit of the world including Lombardy, Turkey, Sicily, Armenia, Egypt, Scotland, an unidentified island – and Edgware, where the first performance of Acis and Galatea took place, at Cannons House.

Handel himself travelled in Germany and, notably, in Italy during the early stages of his career before he settled in London. His music combines elements of music from these travels, particularly from Italy. Another well-travelled composer was Georg Muffat, who added French music among his many influences. We heard instrumental pieces from his Armonico tribute, composed in Italy and published in 1682, three years before Handel was born. Handel frequently ‘borrowed’ Muffat’s music in his compositions.

This well-chosen programme opened with Handel’s Concerto grosso in B flat with Un momento di content (One moment of joy) from Alcina interspersed between the 3rd and 4th movements. As with the other arias in the programme, the texts of the recitatives were included in the programme but were not sung. Purists probably wouldn’t approve of this omission, but I wouldn’t like to decide what to leave out in order to include recitatives.

The first of two Passacaglias came from Muffat’s Armonico tribute with its French-style repeated refrain inserted between the evolving variations. The Handel version (from Radamisto) was in Italian style and came in a sequence that included two extracts from Tamerlano, the early Forte e lieto and the concluding dramatic death scene of Bajazet. A complete suite for strings from Muffat’s Armonico tribute complete the instrumental offerings.

Ian Bostridge’s approach to singing is rather cerebral. He seems to intellectually absorb each character and situation and portray, often in a rather tortured persona, the essence of the emotion that underlies the text – the resulting interpretations are outstanding, musically and emotionally. He has a visible presence that holds the audience in wrapt attention. Steven Devine’s direction of the OAE players from the harpsichord was sensitive and musical. Key instrumental moments came from Kati Debretzeni and Danial Edgar, violins, Catherine Rimer, cello, and Zoe Shevlin, particularly for her bassoon playing in the final vocal piece, Scherza infida from Ariodante. The final vocal line is ‘I will return to haunt you’ – something that Handel’s own music has done for several centuries.

The first encore was ‘Where’er you walk’ from Semele. I say ‘first’ because our hopeless railway system meant that I had to leave after that while the audience was baying for more. As far as I know, they are still there.

Handel: Concerto grosso in B flat, Op3/2 
Un momento di contento Alcina; 
Pastorello d’un povero armento Rodelinda
Muffat: Passacaglia from String Sonata No.5 in G
Handel: Love in her eyes sits playingLove sounds th’ alarm Acis and Galatea
Handel: Overture; Scorta siate a passi miei Giulio Cesare;
Passacaglia from Radamisto;
Forte e lieto and Bajazet’s death scene from Tamerlano
Muffat: String Sonata No.4 in E minor Armonico tribute
Handel: Scherza infida Ariodante