The current celebration of the 300th anniversary of Handel's birth continues to bring us his neglected masterpieces.
A case in point is the oratorio "Solomon," to be performed by the Irvine Symphony Orchestra and the UC Irvine Concert and Alumni Choirs under the direction of Joseph Huszti Saturday at 8 p.m. at the South Coast Community Church in Irvine.
Written seven years after "Messiah," "Solomon" falls between the also rarely heard "Joshua" and "Susanna." It was written when Handel was 64, during a time of robust recovery after a serious illness.
"This is the mature, complete Handel," Huszti says of "Solomon." "You can see how his earlier oratorios are reflected in it--'Messiah' is definitely reflected in it--but Handel has drawn from all of his early works and added more and more complexity. There are some moments that even forecast late romanticism."
Huszti, a professor of music at UC Irvine, says that the oratorio combines sacred and secular elements in Handel's unique way. "There are very simple arias and recitatives as well as the large 'Hallelujah Chorus' types of things. And there are big glorious finishes."
Huszti has pared the original work from 3 1/2 hours to two by cutting sections such as the encounter between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, but he has not eliminated any of the choruses, he said. His forces will include six soloists, a double chorus with 30 singers in each and a baroque orchestra.
"One reason the work isn't really played often is that it requires so many performers and also the demands it places on them. A person has to be a pretty good musician to do this work. Also, you need a male alto for the role of Solomon. It's traditionally sung by a baritone, but the original score calls for an alto--which means a male alto--and that's what we're using. We will have countertenor Edward Bruner, who has performed with the Cleveland Orchestra and in Europe.
"I think that people are getting more used to that kind of sound, now what with more recordings and authentic performances going on. I think it will be fascinating because the duets are exquisite."
Huszti's reliance on scholarship also has led him to rearrange the orchestra to conform to baroque period seating patterns. "I've placed the first and second violins on each side of the conductor so that high and low instrumental and vocal lines are balanced with one another. The first violins are closest to the sopranos, the second violins--which usually double the alto line--are on the alto side of the chorus and so on. This way you also get a stereophonic or an antiphonal effect--answering back and forth in fugues, for instance--which further brings out the baroque components and keeps the lines especially clear."
Although Huszti will not be using period instruments, he stresses that "we're going to attempt to be faithful to the style of the period.
"I will keep things very light, brisk and articulate," he said. "We'll use contrast between full and small forces, and all the soloists--as well as the instrumentalists--will perform spontaneous ornamentation and cadenzas in the Handelian style.
"Spontaneous ornamentation is a matter of taste, experience, expertise--and knowing what musicologists have uncovered in their research," Huszti added. "Performers 20 or 25 years ago were afraid of research. They said, 'Oh, it's going to cut off my interpretation of this work.' But far to the contrary, what it does is make this music really come alive."