Handel's La resurrezione

Early Music Vancouver in collaboration with l'Académie Baroque de Montréal

Angelo Suzie LeBlanc Maddalena Shannon Mercer Cleofe
Matthew White San Giovanni Colin Balzer Lucifero Tyler Duncan
Music director Alexander Weimann Concertmaster Marc Destrubé

Dates 11 August 2007 @ 20.00 Venue Chan Centre for the Performing Arts

Reviewer J. H. Stape

Handel’s oratorio La resurrezione, to a libretto by Carlo Sigismondo Capece and commissioned for Easter 1708, was composed when he was a mere 23. It enjoyed an impeccably stylish Vancouver debut performance by a dream cast and orchestra nearly 300 years after it was first heard in Rome.

Contrary to its advance billing, it is, for all its interests, not especially “dramatic,” but rather a cerebral and piece about faith and hope, set during the period between Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

The lushly intense music was lovingly played by an orchestra whose authentic performance credentials are second to none, and Music Director Alexander Weimann urged out a crisp, sparkling reading of the score. Nuance, right placement, and warm commitment marked the orchestral contribution, which helped largely to avoid the tendency towards the primly academic and the coldly correct and overly self-conscious, the twin rocks upon which all too many performances of period music founder.

This is hardly to say that this was an occasion for a Baroque “Knees up, Frau Braun,” for solemnity and rigour were abundantly present, both in the score – which relentlessly varies recitative and aria, save for the choruses closing the first and second sections – and in the studied agility of the soloists.

With the names featured on the programme, one could expect nothing less than intelligent and highly informed period practice, and there were no disappointments on this count, all the soloists performing ably, musically, and with a daunting intensity of commitment.

Suzie Le Blanc as the Angel sang ethereally, her made-for-oratorio voice striking and winsomely pretty. Her counterpart, Tyler Duncan, made much of his role as Lucifer; he used his formidable baritone, all dark chocolate tones, with much suppleness and to fine effect. His conception, and at times his sound, was arguably more operatic than the stand-and-deliver style typical of oratorio.

The parts of Mary Magdalene, St John, and Cleophas, representative figures for whom Christ's death and resurrection is a deeply human and emotional drama, were executed at the same high level, each singer making his or her mark with a superb sense of Baroque style.

Shannon Mercer’s voice shone brightly, as she conveyed hope and fragility impressively. Colin Blazer’s St John was characteristically well sung. He particularly shone in the soulful aria recalling how the turtledove believing its mate snatched by a bird of prey laments bereft, but then rejoices at his return. The admittedly tricky ornamentation powerfully works against natural easiness, but Blazer triumphed here. Alto Matthew White brought a highly polished sense of style and fine intonation to his role of Cleophas, singing deftly and easily cutting through the orchestral layering.

The “early music” community in Vancouver is a long-established, highly knowledgeable, and enthusiastic one, and the annual Early Music Festival, involving not only performance but also study, has happily coincided of late years with Festival Vancouver. There’s a great deal to celebrate in the variety and sophistication of the music performed in the city.

It does seem, however, that a bit of outreach is needed to attract younger people to this kind of demanding music, the audience at the Chan decidedly of the grey, greying, and soon to be greying sort. If jazz has its place on the Art Gallery Plaza, perhaps a bold move would be to have some early music make its presence felt as well.

© 2007 J H Stape