Crosscut Tout: A 'triumph' of Handel

Pacific MusicWorks presents an early rarity, featuring a remarkable cast of four ravishing singers. One performance remains this Saturday night.

Handel: master melodist, master of many forms.

Handel: master melodist, master of many forms. American Handel Festival

Friday night's performance of a rarity by a very young G.F. Handel called "The Triumph of Time" was one of the most moving and satisfying concerts this listener has heard in a long time. Fortunately there's another performance tonight in downtown Seattle.

The oratorio was written in 1707 in Rome, when Handel was only 22. The music director of Pacific MusicWorks, Stephen Stubbs, says he tracked down this work after working in a production of another early Handel opera, Agrippina, which recycled a lot of the music from the earlier work. It's extraordinary music, bursting from a young musical brain of fabulous powers. I can't imagine why it isn't performed all the time.

Stubbs conducted and played in an orchestra that was superbly "on" for this thrilling evening of music making. But the real stars of the evening are four marvelous singers, so well cast and so alive as performers that they ought to head right into the recording studio. My particular favorite was counter tenor Lawrence Zazzo, a new big name in early music performance. But everyone was in wonderful voice, and there were moments of such limpid beauty that half the hall was dabbing away tears. Amanda Forsythe's closing aria/prayer was, in the final words of the oratorio, "a heart made new."

Stubbs is a lutenist and a leading figure in early music (and Handel performance) in the world. He is now settled in Seattle, where he grew up, and still busy on the international scene. This performance was in Daniels Recital Hall, the old First Methodist Church downtown, which is Pacific MusicWorks' new home. It seems to me a much more gratifying space for this adventurous group than St. James Cathedral, whose acoustics are too rich for conveying words well and a space that creates all kinds of staging difficulties. The high dome in Daniels Hall caused a few problems with the women's voices, to my ear, blurring their focus. But overall the acoustics worked just fine, with a little more brightness at the top than in Town Hall, a similar-sized hall.

Roger Downey's lovely program notes draw attention to what the audience in 1707 would have heard: "the earliest surviving music-drama of one of the greatest composers in that form who ever lived." That audience may not have fully appreciated the splendors that this new composer was unfurling on the scene. But the audience in Seattle, ravished by the work and this performance, surely sensed this "triumph."

If you go: Handel's "Il Trionfo del Tempo" performed by Pacific MusicWorks at Daniels Recital Hall, 811 Fifth Avenue at Columbia, Saturday, March 31 at 8 pm. Tickets are $20-40 and available only at the door.

David Brewster is founder of Crosscut and editor-at-large. You can e-mail him at david.brewster@crosscut.com.


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