How indulgent to listen to two hours of Handel – and no it wasn’t Messiah. It was a rare performance of Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus, the final concert in the music series at St George’s Cathedral. As the spine-tingling yearning intensity of Baroque counterpoint filled the Cathedral I wondered where else you could go to hear this music in Perth or in Australia for that matter?
Judas Maccabaeus, composed 1747, is rarely performed despite the fact in Handel’s day it was one of his most popular oratorios. The oratorio is based on the apocryphal biblical account of one of Israel’s greatest military heroes. Joseph Nolan conducted the Cathedral Consort and Paul Wright was concertmaster of The Musician’s Table in a performance which unfolded with dramatic clarity and faultless pacing. 
Sydney-based tenor Richard Butler sang the role of Judas with heroic aggression which occasionally compromised his pitch and tone. Baritone Andrew Foote gave an imposing, accurate and gleaming account of Judas’ brother Simon. Soprano soloist Sara Macliver sang the Israelite Woman with crystalline sound and needle-sharp melismatic runs while mezzo soprano Fiona Campbell sang the Israelite Man with creamy sustained warmth.
Handel’s stunning four-part choral writing provided opportunity to appreciate the unique soundworld Nolan has built with the Consort. The basses in particular were impressive for their nimbleness and resplendent tone while the clarion youthfulness of the sopranos was well-contrasted with the syrupy warmth of the altos and the restrained ardour of the tenors.
The highlight, as is often the case for me, was Fiona Campbell’s lament Ah wretched, wretched Israel, where her lingering phrases duetted sweetly with Noeleen Wright’s cello to create heart-wrenching pathos.
There were plenty of other moments too: Macliver’s shimmering cadenza in So Shall the lute; or Stewart Smith’s organ chords straining through the orchestral texture and creating shivering harmonic tension. And of course the famous See, the conqu’ring hero comes with the glorious sound of treble chorus and brass given such buoyancy by Nolan and his team.
This review copyright The West Australian 2015.