Handel - Belshazzar - St. James's Piccadilly

It's always an exciting prospect to explore a lesser-known work by Handel. On this occasion, I performed Handel's oratorio 'Belshazzar' (HWV 61) from 1744, with the chorus 'Petros Singers' in a performance at St. James's Piccadilly on Saturday 25th of March 2017.

Petros Singers take great pride in performing repertoire that is "often idiosyncratic, eschewing the typical canonical works in order to shine a light on forgotten masterpieces and rare choral treasures".


The performance was directed by Richard Bannan, the orchestra was led by violinist Madeline Easton and the invited soloists were excellent:

Rupert Charlesworth - Belshazzar
Emma Kirkby - Nitocris, Mother of Belshazzar
David Allsopp - Daniel, A Jewish Prophet
James Hall - Cyrus, Prince of Persia
Giles Underwood - Gobryas, An Assyrian Nobleman
Gregory Bannan - Messenger

Petros Singers sang the choruses of Babylonians, Jews, Medes and Persians.

The involvement of the two natural trumpets and timpani (Russell Gilmour, Gareth Hoddinott and Jeremy Barnett) is relatively light in Belshazzar. It is, undeniably, a long oratorio. The trick for us was to follow the text in the programme to know when to enter, play and leave. I took detailed notes in the rehearsal about when might be suitable to come and go. We were very prompt in the performance but resultantly I heard little of the performance other than the bits I was involved in - such is life!

The oratorio is lengthy, seemingly because the librettist, Charles Jennens, (also librettist of 'Saul' and 'Messiah') sent Handel each act individually, as he finished writing it. Handel was pressed for time so began composing after receiving the first part and realised, upon receipt of the third part, that he would need to compress the work. Otherwise, as Handel said to Jennens, "it would last 4 hours and more".