Enthusiasm and skill was palpable
Review by Geoffrey Bowman
St Wulfram’s is one of the finest parish churches in England.
Pevsner’s ‘Buildings of England’ praises the perfection of its steeple and the clarity of its interior.
In this confident and unencumbered setting a performance took place on May 18 of a work equally confident and unencumbered.
This was Handel’s last oratorio ‘Jephtha’, a masterpiece first performed in 1752.
The plot requires a heroic suspension of disbelief. The Israelite Jephtha promises God that if he triumphs in battle he will sacrifice the first person he sees when he returns.
Having duly triumphed, he first sets eyes upon his daughter Iphis. An angel intervenes to save her, though in return she must dedicate herself to God and remain a virgin.
All this affords ample scope for Handel to portray emotion and high drama, made all the more telling by his simple and direct approach and his classical restraint.
The enthusiasm and skill of all the performers in St Wulfram’s were palpable.
Philip Robinson conducted with a touch both light and assured.
The orchestra of period instruments (Musica Donum Dei) imparted a beautiful velvety timbre to the music.
The six soloists gave full vent to a range of emotions, from Jephtha’s anguish to Iphis’ humble resignation.
The choir of Grantham Choral Society also gave sensitive expression to the emotions, such as the troubled acceptance underlying the profound chorus “How dark, O Lord, are thy decrees”, which concludes with an emphatic “Whatever is, is right”.
The lingering impression was one of admiration for a moving performance of a great work.
In this oratorio Handel summoned up the emotions by magisterially bringing together the qualities which in a later age Sir George Sitwell of Renishaw sought in his alluring gardens: simplicity, restraint, harmony.