Review by Rainer Buhmann: Handel Samson, July 2022

Georg Friedrich Handel
Oratorio SAMSON
Bach Musica NZ Concert Performance, Auckland Town Hall,
Sunday July 3rd, 2022
When Georg Friedrich Handel completed his immortal Oratorio “The Messiah”
after an utterly exhaustive spell of creativity in barely three weeks – and after
hardly having recovered from a stroke in 1737, the protagonist of Opera and
Oratorio at the time were convinced, that Haendel would now withdraw for a
while – or even retire completely, being almost 60 years old – and rest on his
Instead – in 1743, and only one year after his “Messiah’s” rapturous success –
he was back. Now, he surprised the world once again with seemingly
undiminished energy and creativity – and his Oratorio “Samson”.
The Oratorio’s libretto is by Irishman Newburgh Hamilton, and it is based on the
Bible’s Book of Judges, Chapter 16. It delivers a somewhat static plot, as it
revolves entirely around the ailing Israelite Judge Samson, who has deceitfully
been robbed of his super-human powers by his Philistine wife Delilah. During
Samson’s sleep she cuts of her husband’s long hair – the source of his
enormous strength. Subsequently being overwhelmed by his enemies, Samson
has also lost his sight and has been imprisoned. He now laments his atrocious
situation, the awful deprivation of his vital sense – the platform for Bach Musica
NZ to inject what ever life possible.
Their initial steps into this difficult territory appeared to be cautious and
hesitant. It is not quite clear, whether Choir and Orchestra either sympathised
with Samson’s ordeal – or attempted to finding their feet again after a Covid enforced
hiatus of almost two years. A loyal Bach Musica NZ audience would
have received their answer a the latest with the Choir’s “Awake the trumpet’s
lofty sound !” Here, they were back again with their musical prowess, precision
and energy – ably supported by an equally capable and determined Orchestra.
The scene was set for the attentive audience to be entranced by musical
Tenor Andrew Grenon in the difficult role of Samson was responsible for
opening the dialogue. He quickly lost his initial shackles of nervousness and
proceeded to dominate the scene with his steely and assured, fine voice. With his
“No sun, no moon” he demonstrated great emotional versatility and with
considerable energy and phrasing he convincingly portrayed Samson’ s ordeal.
As Samson’s father, Joel Amrosa’s , Bass, provided a very tender contrast. He
also very convincingly demonstrated his role of a loving father. His thoughtfully
presented “For thee, my dearest son” articulated a lyric side to his voice, which
was especially soulful in its lower registers.
In her Soprano-part as Dalila, Joanna Foote immediately took a convincing hold
of her demanding role. With her light and cultivated Soprano she articulated an
additional musical dimension and forcefully sailed towards her Samson identifying
aria “Let the bright Seraphim” , sensibly supported by Trumpeter
Stephen Bemelman , where she re-kindled “Kiri Te Kanawa-connotations” from
Katie Trigg as Micah took on her Alto-part on short notice, following the illness related
cancellation of Kate Spence. Also having to overcome initial nervousness,
this, however, did not deter her from eventually unfolding her substantive and
commanding Alto-voice, providing an intriguing and dramatic contrast to the
dialogue. As a persuasive tenderness in her voice is also an ingredient, this
emerged almost as an unexpected surprise in “Ye sons of Israel” !
As Samson’s jailor, the Philistine giant Harapha is by nature aggressive and evil.
Samuel McKeever , Bass-Baritone, characterises these attributes with great
authority. His powerful and dramatic voice, coupled with a distinct ability of
seemingly limitless phrasing, points at a great future for this young singer.
Rita Paczian’s ability to fill brief cameo-parts convincingly from within the choir
(Emma Roxburgh and Herman Theron) , is testament to its super-standard.
It appears, that in his Samson, Handel cannot entirely shed his distinct Opera background
from his “Italian years”. Therefore, it has been widely accepted, that
Samson represents an Oratorio, with distinct operatic elements – but at the time
written and presented in its current format, therefore successfully passing the
strict verdict of the Church of England.
Bach Musica NZ’s Orchestra under Concertmaster Miranda Hutton once again
rose to the occasion, providing Soloists and Choir with an outstanding and
dependable platform. A second double-bass for the Orchestra fell probably
victim to difficult times. The Chamber Organ’s high register producing a
recorder-like sound to restfully underpin Samson’s funeral-march, provided a
distinct highlight !
A huge vote of thanks and praise for Bach Musica NZ’s Maestra, Rita Paczian,
who in parts conducted Choir and Orchestra from the Harpsichord. Her
determination in keeping alive Choir and Orchestra during this destructive
Covid-pandemic, what in the meantime can surely be described as a Cultural Icon
here in Aotearoa New Zealand, must elicit utmost respect, acknowledgement and
gratitude !
At this memorable concert’s finale, Bach Musica NZ’s Choir and Orchestra shone
once again exuberantly with “Let their celestial concerts all unite” –
a demonstration of choral superiority and reverence to the composer.
The concert ended to a momentarily stunned audience and their standing
ovation in an almost booked-out Auckland Town Hall.
Rainer W. Buhmann