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MUSIC REVIEWS : Handel's 'Belshazzar' Closes Long Beach Bach Festival

November 01, 1995|DANIEL CARIAGA

A noble enterprise, the revival of Handel's oratorio "Belshazzar" (1744) as the closing performance of the 22nd annual Long Beach Bach Festival on Sunday afternoon, brought together a rarely heard masterwork and forces very nearly adept in re-creating it.

Conducted solidly by Robert Wilson, the Festival Orchestra, Camerata Singers of Long Beach and soloists led by the redoubtable Jonathan Mack in the title role, essayed "Belshazzar" gamely but inconsistently, creating at times a performance of continuity, sensible pacing and pointed detailing. Still, the piece needed more.

Central to the performance was an excellent, stylish and accomplished orchestra of 30 players who achieved instrumental fluency and transparency and also indicated the work's emotional breadth (the New Grove Dictionary calls "Belshazzar," "the grandest of all [Handel's] oratorios").

But the Camerata Singers too often sounded like an ad-hoc vocal ensemble, infrequently producing genuine resonance, clear words and textures. The choral glories in the work are abundant, yet they emerged only intermittently.

The vocal soloists at this performance at Los Altos United Methodist Church were a mixed lot, if enthusiastic.

Tenor Mack sang with imposing authority, admirable enunciation and dramatic flair. Soprano Camille King, with even more to do in the leading role of Nitocris, did it all easily, if too often blandly. Sharon Tanabe (Daniel), Cheryl Anne Roach (Cyrus) and Marvin Finnley (Gobryas) handled their important parts with skill.

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