Nicholas McGegan is a man generous with his talents.
Last Thursday lunchtime he was playing harpsichord in an attractive programme of Haydn and Handel in London with CBSO players Centre Stage at the CBSO Centre; in the evening he was directing the main orchestra at Birmingham Town Hall in a rare account of Handel’s last oratorio, Jephtha, and how good to see that appropriate works are drawing the CBSO back occasionally to its original home.
What a versatile band this is. A few days previously it had all been wall-to-wall Nielsen. Here we had a crisp, stylish “period” performance, the players responding with relish and flair to McGegan’s enthusiastic, smiling conducting.
Noble, thrilling horns, stirring trumpets and timpani, piquant oboes and fruity bassoons and, above all, Marie-Christine Zupancic’s dulcet flute obbligati complemented a string tapestry which encompassed both bold rhetoric and sweet sensuousness, everything underpinned by Martin Perkins’ lively continuo on harpsichord and chamber organ.
And Simon Halsey’s CBS Chorus, despite being deprived of some numbers cut from this lengthy score, made a massive contribution in choral writing remarkable even for Handel.
Diction was whiplash (not all the soloists could match this), and subtlety of phrasing hair-raising.
Their final chorus, concluding an almost operatic sequence of reconciliation and resignation, was orgiastic in its triumph.