review of Samson

Tom Owen finds profundity and theatre in the performance of Handel’s Samson at St Marks Church Broomhill.

While Samson is probably not a piece that one would fully stage,
tonight an engaging set of soloists helped to maintain the theatrical
sense of the work. Christopher Trenholme is well cast as Samson, with
a sweetness to his voice that prevails whether dealing with God, his
wife or future brawling partners. The bass Quentin Brown impressed
with two strikingly different voice colours, playing both the
concerned father figure Manoah, and the barbaric (but vocally nimble)
giant Harapha. Soprano Helen Strange, of whom I could have taken a lot
more, set the scene beautifully as a generic Philistine woman, and
Kristina james was a steely Dalila.

It is a piece which flatters the soloists more than the ensemble, with
the chorus often found depicting crowds and missing out on the most
nuanced music, nevertheless the Sheffield Bach Choir found some
profundity when accompanying Kathryn Woodruff’s tender, stoical Micah
in ‘Return, O God of Hosts’. The choir sustained a bright and well
balanced sound throughout this substantial work, moving the drama
along apace. The two finest fugal numbers (‘O First Created Beam’ and
‘Then Shall They Know’) were tremendous.

Under the baton of Simon Lindley, the National Festival Orchestra
might have taken a little more care accompanying some of the
recitatives, and indeed Quentin Brown’s agile singing at the very
bottom of the bass range. The orchestral sound was also a bit
monochrome for a piece of this length and dramatic sweep, although the
sequence of numbers which close the work were lifted by crystalline
organ playing from Alan Horsey in the Dead March (imported from Saul),
and by exemplary trumpet playing from Jamie O’Brien in ‘Let the Bright
Seraphim’. It did all add up to a successful performance both
musically and in terms of telling the tale, and if the soloists were
heroic then the choir were worthy accomplices