There were shouts of joy from the audience yesterday afternoon at the end of the first part of Handel's glosrious oratorio, "jephtha." And well there should have been. For grand exuberance in choral writing, and for expressive narratives and arias, the oratorio is one of music's richest arrays.
There was more than enough in the performance to excite the listeners. First must come, always granting pride of place to conductor Stephen Simon for enlivening the whole, the art of Richard Lewis.
It is no surprise that he sings "Wafther, angels," like a member of the heavenly host. But twice before that, he wrung tears from his audience as he sang, "my daughter - alas! She dies." And later, needing no score to prompt his deepest knowledge of th work, he sang with heart-breaking beauty in the long recitatives that close part two. Far beyong technique and style, Lewis is a master of Handelian song.
Right with him was Benita Valente's exquisite song in Iphis's amazing air, "Happy they." She was a worthy colleague for Handel and Lewis.
The chorus was also a constant band of stars, singing with superb tone and grand spirit.Hilda Harris was a splendid Hamor, Sheila Nadler better in her later singing as Storge than at first, and Gary Kendall not wholly at ease as Zebul. Anne Chase sang the Angel, and the boys from All Saints Church were the semi-chorus.
Simon gave the large work wonderful vitality, letting the great choral crescendos make their point, while treating the matchless sustained passages with ideal sympathy. Thanks to him, "Jephtha," emerged as the singular masterpiece with which Handel closed his creative career.