Review, Prom 50, Samsung, Academy of Ancient Music, Royal Albert Hall by James Ellis

Photo credit: Sisi Burn

 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

It would be my last pop at The Proms this year that might just be my highlight of the trip. The Academy of Ancient Music, Philharmonia Chorus with conductor Laurence Cummings wowed with this years take on Handel. The German composers times in London proved fruitful and even today the city appears to adore his work. Samson is an oratorio, quite static in nature, not an opera and most of the main events of this biblical story happen off stage. Of course, the joy with Handel comes with sincere and exquisite arias, music which has held up very well over the centuries to a very height standard.

A fine cast of singers stand out here. As the strongman lead, Allan Clayton is Samsong who waves in and out of the music, his rich timbre always on display and his operatic presence never waning. As Delila, the downfall of Samsung, Jacquelyn Stucker is seen very little for these two and a half hours. Though her subtle vocals might not have command the great hall there was joy in her aria or two, her actions changing the story forever. Joélle Harvey as the Israelite Woman was clear and refined, her famous ending piece Let the bright Seraphim (with galloping trumpet) the crowing achievement of this fairly drab and solemn story. 

Photo credit: Sisi Burn

Wagner stalwart Brindley Sherratt is Harapha, adding conflict and further drama, his voice smooth and a fine baritone to hear here. Jess Dandy in the fictions (a creation of John Milton, not from biblical sources) holds the piece up with a fine contralto, her time on stage extensive, her music affirmed. Bass-baritone Jonathan Lemalu as Manoa, Samson’s father, added pathos to the final act as fate is settled. Lemalu suprisee with another golden voice, the varied male roles getting lots of opportunities to glow. Will Pate as a Messenger was brief, though in fine footing.

Some arias are highlight, the Dead March featuring the flutes and the choral numbers were touching. You’ve got to like your arias, otherwise you will struggle with a thing like this. Cummings both maestro and on one of two harpsichord had so much energy it was staggering. It all glided along smoothly, perhaps just the odd moments which left me unsure. I think the audience was taken with this work. We hope more Handel will follow. I imagine it will.

The BBC Proms are available to listen live on BBC 3 and after on BBC Sounds.

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