Handel Singing Competition 2020

London Handel Festival
Handel Singing Competition: Semi-Final
St George’s, Hanover Square, 6 March 2020

UPDATE: It is intended that the final of the competition will be held at some future date.

I would normally wait until the final of the annual Handel Singing Competition before mentioning some of those who I heard in the semi-final but, with the Coronavirus cancellation of the entire London Handel Festival, this turns out to be the only review of the festival that I will be writing. The final would have been this evening, 24 March, so it seems an appropriate time to post this review of the semi-final. The reason I try to attend semi-finals of competitions like this is that I frequently hear people who, in my view, should have got through to the final but, for reasons best known to the judges, don’t make it. The London Handel Festival’s annual Handel Singing Competition is no exception to this situation.

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LHF. Handel: Athalia

London Handel Festival
Handel: Athalia
(HWV52)
London Handel Orchestra & Singers, Laurence Cummings.
St John’s, Smith Square, 29 April 2019

In what must have been an extraordinary week of music in Oxford, in July 1733 Handel was invited by Oxford University to provide musical entertainment (for his own profit) during the so-called, and rarely enacted, ‘Publick Act’, a higher degree ceremony and general benefactor’s shindig. Over an eight-day period, Handel presented Esther, the Utrecht Te Deum, and Deborah in the Sheldonian Theatre, and Acis and Galatea in Christ Church College. Alongside those performances was the premiere of the oratorio Athalia, given in the late afternoon of 10 July after the Vice-Chancellor’s speech, and repeated the following morning at 9.30 before the presentation of honorary degrees. This performance was the closing event of the 2019 London Handel Festival, and was conducted by their Artistic Director, Laurence Cummings with their house band and choir, the London Handel Orchestra & Singers. Continue reading

LHF: Mr Handel’s Scholars

‘Mr Handel’s Scholars’
London Handel Festival
London Handel Orchestra, Laurence Cummings
Anna Devin, Maria Ostroukhova, Nathan Vale, Derek Welton
St George’s, Hanover Square, 23 March 2018

The Handel Singing Competition was inaugurated as part of the London Handel Festival in 2002, and counts several well-known singers amongst the past finalists, if not always amongst the past winners. Several former finalists have become regular performers at subsequent festival events, and this concert was one such. It featured four past finalists, three from 2006/7 and one far more recently, from 2016: two first prize winners, one 2nd prize winner and two winners of the audience prize. Handel was known to have encouraged younger singers, and the title of ‘Mr Handel’s Scholars’ refers to the name by which his young proteges were known. Each half opened with an overture, following by a range of extracts from Handel operas and oratorios, several of which are standard fare at singing competitions.

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LHF: Handel – Acis & Galatea

Handel: Acis & Galatea
London Handel Orchestra, Laurence Cummings
St John’s, Smith Square. 21 March 2018

The first of the London Handel Festival’s anniversary events was a performance of Acis and Galatea, first performed in 1718 at Cannons, the palatial mansion north-west of London where James Bridges, by then the Earl of Carnarvon and later to become Duke of Chandos, demonstrated the enormous wealth he had gathered through his position as Paymaster General to the army. Cannons became the only example in England of a Germanic-style princely court orchestra (24-strong) outside the royal family. Handel was house composer from 1717-19 working under Pepusch. It had originally been a small-scale masque, probably performed outdoors, with a small orchestra and five singers, who together formed the chorus. Considering it was the anniversary of the 1718 premiere, it was rather curious that the work was here presented in its 1739 incarnation – one that Handel himself never heard.

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The interior of St John’s, Smith Square (built at the same time of the premiere of Acis) was transformed by director Martin Parr into a cross between some sort of down-market 1980’s rave and a children’s party, with a pall of dry ice engulfing the audience as they entered, party balloons hanging over the mist enveloped orchestra, and rather innocuous drapes suspended from scaffolding, for no apparent reason. It was the first of many production issues that I felt really didn’t work. That said, and more anon, musically it was well worth the trip.

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Handel: Giove in Argo

Handel: Giove in Argo
Britten Theatre, 26 March 2015
Laurence Cummings conductor
London Handel Orchestra

Like London busses, you can wait for ages to hear a pasticcio opera, and then three come along at once. After Fabio Biondi’s reconstruction of Vivaldi’s compilation L’Oracolo in Messenia at The Barbican and Opera Settecento’s excellent concert performance of Handel’s 1732 compilation opera Catone in Utica (both reviewed below), along came Handel’s 1739 Giove in Argo. It was considered lost until some arias were discovered a few years ago. John H Roberts has reconstructed and edited the score (for Bärenreiter), adding missing recitatives. After recent outings in Göttingen, Hanover and Halle, this was the first UK performance since 1739. It was given in the intimate space of the Britten Theatre with singers from the RCM International Opera School as part of the London Handel Festival.

The plot is loosely drawn from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It focuses on the antics of a rather naughty Giove (Jove/Jupiter) and his attempts to seduce Continue reading