One of the most important works of Handel’s Italian period, La Resurrezione was first performed privately on Easter Day 1708 in the home of one of the composer’s Roman patrons. It’s a remarkable piece in some ways. The subject matter itself is unusual: depictions of the resurrection are relatively rare in music, as indeed they are in art, almost as if approaching the central mystery of Christianity were somehow borderline human imagination.
Handel’s treatment is oblique, though striking. A supernatural colloquium between Lucifer and an angel describes the tearing apart of hell, while on Earth, Saints John the Evangelist, Mary Magdalene, and Mary Cleophas anxiously await the dawn that will reveal Christ’s tomb to be empty. As so often in Handel, however, there is an underlying sense of God’s glory reflected in the physical wonder of creation, and the textual equation of Christ with the sun sets the stage for a startlingly beautiful depiction of renewal. natural after the harsh winter.
The resulting sensuous immediacy largely predominated in the Easter Monday performance by the London Handel Orchestra conducted by Laurence Cummings, as part of both the London Handel Festival and the Easter Festival at St Martin-in -the-Fields. Cummings proved a demanding judge of the sometimes delicate balance between drama and reflection, teasing instrumental details as he went – woodwinds that alternately mourn and comfort, the warmth of the strings, the glow of the brass which finally announce the triumph of light over darkness.
There were also wonderful songs. Nardus Williams seemed ravishing like Mary Magdalene, her rapturous introspection contrasted with the burst of bravery of Helen Charstonit’s Marie Cleophas. Rachel Redmond‘s Angel showered Callum ThorpeLucifer, brooding and gravelly-voiced, with volleys of cheerfully precise coloratura. And like John the Evangelist, Ed Lyons sang with a burnished tone and deep sincerity, bringing an ecstatic quality to Ecco Il Sol Ch’Esce Dal Mare that arguably made it the emotional highlight of a beautiful and rewarding evening.