fri 23/02/2024

Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, Academy of Ancient Music, Milton Court review - radiant and full of life | reviews, news & interviews

Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, Academy of Ancient Music, Milton Court review - radiant and full of life

Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, Academy of Ancient Music, Milton Court review - radiant and full of life

Handel's first oratorio is a musical treasure-chest

Lawrence Cummings and the Academy of Ancient MusicMark Allen

Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno is the opposite of a jukebox musical. So fertile, so overflowing was the 22-year-old Handel’s musical imagination, that his very first oratorio, composed during his time in Rome, would become a chest full of music the composer returned to again and again, pilfering and self-plagiarising over the ensuing decades. All those hits from Rodelinda, from Agrippina, Partenope, Rinaldo: he wrote them here first.

A poor performance can feel like a game of musical bingo, finger-tapping while waiting to spot the next tune while Tempo (Time), Disinganno (Enlightenment) and Piacere (Pleasure) all squabble over the soapbox in their attempts to convince Bellezza (Beauty) of their own superiority. In a good one, allegory soon gives way to something far less chilly; Beauty’s choice becomes personal, her conflict ours, as we all wrestle with pleasure’s temptations and time’s merciless progress, her salvation in a final turn towards faith genuinely moving.

There were no bingo cards for this performance from Lawrence Cummings and the Academy of Ancient Music. A slightly rattled start (at these speeds, the tiniest bump is magnified tenfold) soon settled, revealing a kaleidoscope of colour and texture: a wriggling solo oboe, a cello plunging right down into the depths, a pair of misty recorders, a chamber organ suddenly starting into gleaming, bell-life life.

Out front, four soloists put their persuasive case. Pleasure – the good-time, spend-it-now-and-worry-later girl – is a gift of a part for versatile soprano Anna Dennis (pictured above): musical mercury, darting brilliant from the filigree, minuet prettiness of “Chiudi, chiudi” to the fizzing coloratura ferocity of “Come Nembo”, breaking all the rules in the extraordinary harmonic rebellion of “Tu giurasti”. Convincing to the last, striding off after defeat with a flounce that suggested this was by no means over, she was a larger-than-life foil for the sobriety of Time and Enlightenment.

Virtue doesn’t get to have nearly as much fun, but there were compensations. Tenor Nick Pritchard (pictured above, an arch and gently disapproving Time) cherished the text, giving us some of the most musical singing of the evening, delicately shaded and graded in tone against the rainbow-coloured orchestral backdrop. Countertenor Reginald Mobley (Enlightenment) was at his best in the crooning “Crede l’uom”, joined by those breathy recorders: a soft-focus fantasy of sound. Elsewhere his occluded tone begged for greater release, some light to balance all that dark velvet.

Torn this way and that, now swearing to give up worldly pleasures and now again seduced, Sophie Junker’s Beauty (pictured above) vacillated with winning conviction. From pouty petulance we watched her move through dawning realisation until the stunning final conversion of “Tu del ciel” – beautiful enough to stop Time in his tracks, just for a moment. It’s a huge role, especially in those relentless final scenes, and Junker gave us tireless energy and agility and bags of sweetness. Just occasionally tone became a little shrill, thrust forwards rather than beckoning us in.

Il Trionfo is a musical portrait of an artist as a young man, a snapshot of the moment when genius becomes genius. Time always wins, no matter how many times you play out the argument – except when it comes to music. 300 years and counting, and Handel has lost none of his vigour and beauty. Let time do its worst; I’m betting on another 300.

Sophie Junker’s Beauty vacillated with winning conviction, arriving at a stunning final conversion

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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