Carolyn Sampson is no stranger to the Halle Handel Festival, and with this year’s Festival theme of “Sensitive, heroic, sublime – Handel’s Women”, a programme entitled “Handel’s Heroines” fit right in. While some might quibble about the inclusion of the vain Semele, nasty queen Athalia and evil sorceress Melissa being included as heroic, there is no doubt that they were redoubtable and perhaps sublime women. The concert also featured heavily the Baroque trumpeter Neil Brough, with Robert King leading The King’s Consort from the harpsichord.

Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort © Maria Scheunpflug
Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort
© Maria Scheunpflug

Movements from Water Music, Suite no. 2 in D major kicked things off in an arrangement by early trumpet doyen Crispian Steele-Perkins, interspersed with the Sarabande from a dance suite in the first part of Almira which demonstrated Brough’s virtuosity. Arias from oratorios followed, firstly Semele’s “Oh Jove, in pity”, then some from more virtuous women, Theodora (“With darkness deep”) and Deborah (“Choirs of angels all around thee”), sung with moving sincerity. Another trumpet item followed, entitled “Musica Bellicosa”, with more items from operas: a Sinfonia from Floridante, a Lentement from Deidamia and the March from Scipione. “Piangerò” from Giulio Cesare saw the soprano return to doleful mood, followed by Athalia’s fury aria “My vengeance awakes me”, with appropriate decoration.

The second half began with the overture from Atalanta, which includes a trumpet, due to the work’s royal associations – an engaging piece, with the orchestra now sounding a model of clarity and accuracy. This was followed by “Se pietà” from Giulio Cesare, Cleopatra’s other doleful aria. Handel’s “divers symphonies“ included March in D major for trumpet and a suite comprising Gigue-Air-Bourrée and a Water Music variant from a manuscript source edited by Crispian Steele-Perkins, that was played enthusiastically.

Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort © Maria Scheunpflug
Carolyn Sampson and The King's Consort
© Maria Scheunpflug

Teofane’s “Affani del pensier” from Ottone followed, a full-bodied model of limpid clarity. An instrumental interlude sans trumpet followed, a Chaconne from Terpsicore smoothly played, with nice passages for oboes and bassoon. Sampson returned for a lighthearted piece, Ginevra’s “Volate, amori” from Ariodante, sung with real gioia, the rapid fire text being deftly managed with fleet and accurate coloratura. The last formal item was “Desterò dall’empia dite”, a bravura aria of dark vengeful joy sung by Melissa in Amadigi and accompanied by trumpet and solo oboe (Frances Norbury). This elicited intricate singing and playing, with brio and bright D major tone. Sampson electrified with her high note entry on the da capo, and the audience loved it. After tumultuous applause, King turned to the audience, waving a piece of music in the air and exclaiming “I’ve just found another one!”, and embarked on “Let the bright seraphim” (from Samson, appropriately enough). The singer let this rip, with fluent legato through the melismas, concluding with an interpolated high note on “uplifted”, and everyone certainly was.

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