Words and Music review of concert in Lancing College Chapel 16th March 2011

25 May 2011

16th April 2011. Handel Extravaganza at Lancing College. (Sussex Chorus). Conductor Neil Jenkins.

As part of their 90th season, the Sussex Chorus presented a fine Handel Extravaganza concert in Lancing College’s magnificent chapel. Under Neil Jenkins’ excellent preparation and conducting skills, the choir showed astute attention to detail and, as much as such an acoustic allows, dynamic variety, the opening Coronation Anthem, Zadok, the Priest being well received by the large audience.

John Walker, the choir’s repetiteur, gave a creditable display of the colours of the chapel’s organ in the Organ Concerto no. 4 with the unusual choral ‘Alleluia’, heard in its first performance, restored to the concerto’s end.

In one of Handel’s brightest Chandos Anthems, O Praise the Lord with one consent Neil Jenkins repeated his performance of 50 years earlier of the Aria ‘Praise him..’ to the audience’s delight, after which Nicholas Pritchard, an excellent young tenor with a very bright future treated us to a particularly charismatic musical line and engaging presence, Helen-Jane Howells’ beautiful soprano and Christopher Breeds’ lyrical baritone presented their Arias between rousing choruses from the choir.

Handel was largely responsible for the development and popularity of the English Oratorio. His Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, a setting of John Dryden’s A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day of 1739 pre-dates his Messiah by two years and is a very different creation. In the work, the very accomplished Sussex Classical Players, led by Robin Morrish, which had accompanied the other worksin the programme, were given their head in the Overture and a March which suitably reflected the chorus of Charge, charge, ‘tis too late to retreat!. Handel’s writing in the three chorus numbers is masterful in its ease of movement between homophonic and contrapuntal sections and appropriate colouring of the text – the solo ‘cello’s whimsical soliloquy framing the single choir-only number being especially effective.

His work appeared at a time of experimentation for Handel as he searched for a life beyond Opera and the Arias and Recitatives – not linked as would be standard in his operas – are challenging for soloist and obbligato players alike. Both Helen-Jane Howells and Nicholas Pritchard rose exquisitely to the task as did the trumpet and flute in their appropriate roles.

Throughout the very full programme the soloists, choir, orchestra and conductor showed great stamina in maintaining the high level of musicality and performing standard they set at the start in an wholly enjoyable evening of Handel’s glorious music.

Simon Austin