In September 2021, the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, led by John Eliot Gardiner, perform a programme of youthful choral works by Handel and Bach at two of Europe’s most prestigious classical music festivals.
Handel Donna che in ciel, HWV 233
Bach Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 4
Handel Dixit Dominus (Psalm 109), HWV 232
For Handel, an adventurous traveller and a true European, the three and a half years that he spent in Italy in his early twenties had a decisive influence on his creative development. Italian vigour and vivid colour are immediately striking in his psalm setting Dixit Dominus, which was completed in Rome in 1707, essentially a grand concerto for voices and orchestra.
Bach’s cantata Christ lag in Todesbanden was composed in the same year. Unlike Handel, the young Bach stayed in Protestant Germany, but his virtuosic elaboration of Martin Luther’s Easter hymn turns the text into an astonishingly fiery piece of musical drama.
The Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists will be joined by the renowned Handelian singer Ann Hallenberg for Donna che in ciel, also composed during Handel’s Italian sojourn. The cantata commemorates the fifth anniversary of an earthquake which shook the area around Rome, and gives thanks to the Virgin Mary for averting disaster. This will be a rare opportunity to hear a work which glows with Italian passion: the arias by turns evoke the tremors of the earthquake, and plangently address the Virgin, before the chorus reinforce an ecstatic final hymn of praise.
As well as live on BBC Radio 3, our performance of this programme at the BBC Proms will also be broadcast on BBC4 on Sunday 5 September.