Music review: SCO: Handel’s Theodora, Queen’s Hall

THEODORA is one of Handel’s rarely performed oratorios, so the Scottish Chamber Orchestra were fortunate indeed to engage director/harpsichordist Harry Bicket as a last minute replacement for Richard Egarr, who had to withdraw for family reasons. Bicket is artistic director of the English Concert, one of the UK’s finest period orchestras, as well as a Handel specialist.
The Queens Hall, Edinburgh. Picture: Neil HannaThe Queens Hall, Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna
The Queens Hall, Edinburgh. Picture: Neil Hanna

SCO: Handel’s Theodora

Queen’s Hall

Star rating: *****

Over the years the SCO has perfected a period-edged sound using natural horns and trumpets, and in this performance, the theorbo – a larger version of a lute –which added delicate strumming textures to the recitatives. From the outset, the orchestra played with tons of energy and a crispness in their baroque step. The SCO Chorus, expertly drilled by Chorus Master Gregory Batsleer, also impressed with their concise deliveries and ability to really pump up the volume when required. Mixing up the different sections of the chorus was transformational, ironically bringing a greater integrity to their performance.

Bass Neal Davies led the stunning line-up of soloists, relishing some wonderfully thunderous passages as the uncompromising President Valens. His punishment for the virtuous Christian Theodora - sung with crystal clarity by Stefanie True – was banishment to a brothel. As Didymus, Theodore’s would-be rescuer, Iestyn Davies’ pellucid counter-tenor voice was spellbinding and their duet together ravishing. Mezzo-soprano Renata Pokupic as Irene, one of Theodora’s followers, provided the vocal warmth to the mix of voices although she made heavy weather of some of the ornamentation. She was, however, a good counterbalance to tenor Samuel Boden’s conflicted Septimius.