Festival Serves Up Hearty Handel ‘Feast’
The musical glories of Handel’s “Alexander’s Feast” are many, and the forces of the Baroque Music Festival Corona del Mar set them out in generally satisfying fashion Sunday afternoon at St. Michael and All Angels Church. Unfortunately, Handel worked his wonders on behalf of John Dryden’s unintentionally comic “Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day,” a stilted and opaque farrago of classical history and myth that sounds like something P.D.Q. Bach would have set.
The grinning specter of the last and least of the Bachs also loomed over the performance in the second half, in a sequence of wayward tuning, missed entrances and a false start. Otherwise, the period instrument orchestra proved characterful and the chorus hearty, under Burton Karson’s unflappable conducting.
Handel gave the most distinctive solo music to the soprano--two of them, actually, although Jennifer Foster sang with radiant aplomb all of the soprano parts as redistributed here. Her vibrato was a bit wide for real clarity in the passagework but she delivered the stunning lament for the vanquished Darius with perfectly focused voice and expressive power.
Baritone Christopher Lindbloom drew the character music, a pastoral drinking song and a blustery rage aria, brilliantly blazoned by trumpeter Calvin Price and Paul Avril and Rebecca O’Donovan on natural horns. Lindbloom provided solid sound and rather more dignity than the music wanted.
The politely manic master of ceremonies at this unlikely feast was tenor Mark Goodrich, crisp in sound and communication in the narrative recitatives and perky airs.
Karson and his singers, solo and choral, seemed content to let style emanate from the orchestra, which it did with considerable flair. They concentrated instead on vocal vigor and textual clarity, the latter very much a mixed blessing.