BBC Proms: Bach & Handel

BBC Proms: Bach & Handel
Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists

Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Ann Hallenberg
Royal Albert Hall, 1 September 2021

Handel: Donna, che in ciel HWV 233
Bach: Christ lag in Todes Banden, BWV 4
Handel: Dixit Dominus

Eschewing all the social distancing provisions that the BBC Proms had arranged for orchestras, John Elliott Gardiner’s own Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists crammed tight onto the (specially enlarged) Royal Albert Hall stage for a performance of two pieces seemingly written for the same Sunday in 1707 by two 22-year-old composer, Bach and Handel, both at the start of their very different careers. This review is based on the BBC Four televised broadcast.

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BBC Prom 74: Handel – Theodora

Handel: Theodora
Arcangelo, Jonathan Cohen
Royal Albert Hall, 7 September 2018

Of all Handel oratorios, the one that is probably most likely to put you off Christianity (or put you even further off Christianity) is Theodora. Set during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian, the story is of two love-struck Christians who refuse to honour the Roman gods, and then vie with each other as to which of them is to be put to death as a result, each insisting on taking the place of the other until the exasperated Valens, President of Antioch, has them both sent to their heaven. It was unusual for an opera or oratorio to end badly for the leading lights, which perhaps explains its lack of success at the time. The text doesn’t bear much scrutiny either, the earlier arias of the Christian contingent and their confidence that the Lord would provide protection ‘here and everywhere’,  and the chorus’s response that the Everlasting One was ‘Mighty to save in perils, storm and death’, seemed a little ill-judged in the forthcoming circumstances.   But, setting aside the silly plot, the text and music express aspects of love, religious freedom, bloody-mindedness, and the assumptions that Christians are far more musically intelligent than ‘heathens’. The latter is a particular feature of Handel’s music, with the choir switching between Heathen and Christian to distinctly different music, the former generally rather four-square, clumpy, and harmonically unadventurous, the latter tuneful and svelte.  Continue reading