Some composers, Bach, for instance, seem to have sprung upon the world fully grown. There just isn't music one can label "young" or "immature" Bach. But Handel is another matter, and "Esther," his second (or first, depending on the source) oratorio, is unquestionably a youthful and far-from-vintage creation.
It was performed at the Smithsonian yesterday by the University of Maryland Chorus (or a 35-member subset thereof), soloists from the Maryland music faculty, and the Smithsonian Chamber Players, all under the direction of Paul Traver.
It was far from a balanced performance. The orchestra, with its historical instruments, played superbly, the oboes negotiating flashy runs with astonishing unanimity, Rob Roy McGregor's natural trumpet, saved for the end, soaring with lovely lightness, and the baroque-sounding sonorities, heavy on the winds, sounding absolutely right.
However, the Chorus, whose size should have insured transparent textures and light movement, sang heavily throughout, only the Siciliano "Ye Sons of Israel, Mourn" had much dramatic thrust.
Soloists Linda Mabbs and Edmund Tolliver were convincingly Handelian in their assignments, but tenor James McDonald was entirely out of his element (and his range, which is closer to baritone) in his.
An anonymous tenor and alto from the chorus handled their solo bits very nicely.