The English Concert perform early-music for Carnegie Hall Live

March 16, 2014

St. Paul, Minn. — Early-music specialist Harry Bicket returns to Carnegie Hall with The English Concert for the next installment in their Handel project — the rarely heard oratorio Theodora. Featuring some of the composer's most glorious music, this tragic work depicts the self-sacrificial love between a Christian virgin and a Roman imperial bodyguard, sung here by vocal greats Dorothea Roschmann and David Daniels. This deeply moving oratorio serves as a timeless parable of spiritual resistance to tyranny and an indictment of persecution, topics that still resonate with audiences today.

Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage THE ENGLISH CONCERT Harry Bicket, Artistic Director Dorothea Roschmann, Soprano (Theodora) Sarah Connolly, Mezzo-Soprano (Irene) David Daniels, Countertenor (Didymus) Andrew Kennedy, Tenor (Septimius) Neal Davies, Bass-Baritone (Valens) The Choir of Trinity Wall Street Julian Wachner, Director of Music and the Arts

Program at-a-Glance

There are a group of composers—Franz Haydn, Giuseppe Verdi, Richard Strauss—who developed an extraordinary style and wrote their greatest and most original masterpieces in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s. Think of Haydn's Creation, Verdi's Otello and Falstaff, and Strauss's Four Last Songs. Handel's Theodora, the next-to-last of his 16 oratorios, belongs among these late masterpieces. Composed in 1749 when Handel was 64 and gradually going blind, it was a vastly different work from the grandiloquent and showily virtuosic music that had made him so popular in England and beyond. Often extremely beautiful in its melodic inspiration, it was also a very subtle and intimate work with a tragic ending and not a trace of bombast. It summed up Handel's mastery of the Baroque forms of aria and chorus, but also broke new ground in its treatment of them. It displayed a mastery of counterpoint—the art of weaving together independent musical lines—that rivaled J. S. Bach at his best. Its story of quietly heroic Christian martyrs diverged from contemporary English taste, and it was a failure at its premiere. Yet it was Handel's personal favorite of his oratorios, and today more and more music lovers would agree with his assessment. As Handel biographer Paul Henry Lang wrote, it "leaves us with a sense of human nobility."

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