FOR Handel's oratorio Saul to be a success it requires soloists who can convey the thoughts of the main characters to the audience.

Unfortunately, in this performance at the Malvern Theatres, most of them - Rachel Nicholls (soprano), Elizabeth Cragg (soprano), Dan Ludford-Thomas (tenor) and Niall Hoskin (bass) - spent much of the time reading their scores closely, their diction unclear, with scant regard for the listeners and with little communication.

The exception was Tobias Cole (countertenor); he knew and understood his character, David. He sang musically, with distinct enunciation, and imparted the music dramatically. The chorus strove valiantly, singing the Handellian composition with gusto. Although the words demand 'forte' rather than 'pianissimo' singing, greater dynamic shading would have been welcome.

The chorus of ladies 'Welcome mighty King', with a dulcimer-like instrument added to the orchestra was very effective, and when the gentlemen joined in at the second hearing of 'David his ten thousand slew' there was a sense of glorification.

'Envy! Eldest born of hell!', a chorus with a dotted rhythm accompaniment, was suitably nasty.

The best choral singing was of 'Is there a man...', which lay in a comfortable register for the voices; the words 'And melts...' were particularly meaningful.

The small orchestra, led by Tony Urbainczyk, was excellent. The Overture showed it to be a nicely balanced ensemble, with some beautiful strands of solo playing by the oboes, first violin, viola and keyboard. Changes of tempi were achieved without fuss. The dramatic 'Dead March' was intensified with impressive trombones and timpani.

The lengthy closing 'Hallelujah', as one would expect from this composer (complete with penultimate rest), was brought to it's close by the conductor Iain Sloan.