Music review: The SCO & Peter Dijkstra - Handel’s Solomon, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra
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Handel’s rarely performed oratorio Solomon is one of his most exuberant, lavish works. Not just in its musical evocations – from the well-loved ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ (actually one of its less effusive moments) to the exquisite pastoral chorus that serenades Solomon and his Queen at the end of Act 1. But also in its musical forces and techniques: it requires several soloists, chorus and a big, colourful orchestra, often subdivided down into smaller groups to generate the work’s rich, intricate textures.

The SCO & Peter Dijkstra - Handel’s Solomon, Usher Hall, Edinburgh ****

And it was in teasing apart Handel’s extravagant writing that Dutch conductor Peter Dijkstra proved so brilliantly adept, his contained yet determined gestures drawing wonderfully balanced, expertly shaped playing from the SCO strings, wind and brass, all on incisive form. There was an ease and transparency to Dijkstra’s account that found an ideal match in his compatriot Maarten Engeltjes in the work’s title role, his countertenor not always huge, but ringing nevertheless with an astonishing purity and directness. Tenor Joshua Ellicott made a nimble, lyrical Zadok; soprano Anna Dennis was rich-toned as the visiting Queen of Sheba; and the SCO Chorus was on exceptionally strong, confident form, elegantly self-dividing into two separate groups for Handel’s double-chorus sections.

But however lavish its evocations, with its three essentially static tableaux, you could hardly accuse Solomon of being overly dramatic. And however exquisite Dijkstra’s account, it could probably have done with a little more edge and bite to point up what little storytelling there is in the work. It was a sumptuous, carefully considered performance, but one that felt at times a little restrained.