Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Handel was no food. He killed two birds with one Oratorio, "Solomon." Its magnificence both evoked the splendor of the great temple and palace, and served as a tribute to George II. Handel may have been a musician first of all, but second, he was a politician.
In its complete form, the 63 sections present a succession of huge double choruses and gentle, almost madrigalian choruses, stylish da capo arias and arias that are close in structure and feeling to English country music, all intersperced with inventive recitative. Unfortunately few evenings are long enough for a full performance.
The version performed at the Kennedy Center Monday night by the Handel Festival Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of Stephen Simon, however, was satisfactory in every respect. The cuts preserved the oratorio's three main sections, retained all the favorite choruses, included some solo sections which are often omitted and, all in all, was balanced, coherent and well-proportioned.
But most delightful of all was the quality of the performance. It was so Handelian. It was exuberant, throughly baroque in spirit and virtuoso in execution. Wonder of wonders, it sounded adequately rehearsed. Its forces were just the right size to project both the full force of Handelian fortissimos and the gentleness of his caressing phrases. And above all, Simon is a super Handel conductor.
Of his soloists, John Reardon, as Solomon, Grayson Hirst, Nancy Shade and Sung-Sook Lee sang quite beautifully, but the only real Handel singer on the stage was Lorna Haywood, whose small First Harlot part was performed with true distinction. John Ostendorf and Elinor Ross were vocally heavy for their assignments.
Norman Scribner trained and chorus brilliantly.
But it was the playing of the orchestra that made this performance so much better Handel than is usually heard. Every attack was in place. Runs and ornaments sounded absolutely together, and the sound had both strength and blend. It was the kind of performance that one usually hears only on recordings.