Handel's oratorios are still somewhat of a rarity in Hungary, an error that the Savaria Baroque Orchestra’s Handel series aims to mend. With Solomon, an utterly dedicated cast, orchestra and chorus in the expert hands of conductor Pál Németh delivered excellently, giving an outstanding performance of the work.

Xavier Sabata © Michal Novak
Xavier Sabata
© Michal Novak

Though the score of Solomon is certainly beautiful, it’s not particularly dramatic and rarely ever really gripping. The oratorio lacks a linear narrative, portraying three unconnected episodes of Solomon’s rule that are only united by the figure of the king: the consecration of the First Temple and his marriage to the Pharaoh’s daughter; the famous judgement between the two mothers; and the visit of the Queen of Sheba.

Under the baton of Pál Németh, though, there was no danger of the performance ever becoming static. Keeping the tempi lively, but never rushing, Németh infused the piece with vigour and intensity, drawing sumptuous sounds from orchestra and chorus alike. The joint forces of the Savaria Baroque Orchestra and the Debrecen Kodály Choir could indeed "shake the dome and pierce the sky", filling up the hall with walls of sound at the more bombastic moments; their performance was bursting with energy. Characterized by brisk, stylish playing and a resplendent, exuberant sound (the mellowness of the strings was particularly wonderful), the orchestra’s performance was an aural treat. Heavily featured in the oratorio (the chorus is involved in twelve numbers), the Debrecen Kodály Choir showed considerable virtuosity, rendering the wide variety of moods from the hushed, pastoral bliss of “May no rash intruder” through the jubilant “From the censer curling rise” to the thundering “Shake the dome, and pierce the sky” with great expressivity and without any strain, their tone lush and glowing.

The soloists of the evening deserve high praise as well. Singing the title role, Xavier Sabata was unfortunately not on top form, battling valiantly with a cold, but he sang with admirable commitment, showing off a warm, vibrant voice, particularly appealing as it blended beautifully with the smooth, dulcet soprano of Krisztina Jónás in their duets, especially in “Welcome as the dawn of day”. Jónás also sang the roles of the First Harlot and the Queen of Sheba, poignant in the former, delivering a deeply moving “Can I see my infant gor'd”, and appropriately regal in the latter, but she was the best as Solomon’s Queen, her charming “Bless'd the day when first my eyes” a highlight.

The rest of the cast was uniformly strong: above all, Dávid Szigetvári was marvellous as Zadok, with a bright tone that’s ideally suited to this repertoire, remarkable breath control and sensitive phrasing, his delivery of the High Priest’s arias was effortless and nothing short of stunning. Nóra Ducza’s feisty singing and colorful characterization of the Second Harlot was equally impressive, especially for such a minor part, while László Jekl’s sonorous bass made for a commanding Levite. On the whole, this was an excellent performance and a great display of Hungarian talent, and I cannot wait to hear whichever oratorio Németh and his orchestra decide to perform next.

****1