Nearly five years since its inception, specialist baroque ensemble Instruments of Time and Truth is putting on the oratorio that inspired its name.

Handel’s The Triumph of Time and Truth is at the Sheldonian Theatre this Saturday, and conductor Edward Higginbottom is keen to stress what a wonderful work this little-known Handel piece is.

“It comes right at the end of Handel’s career, so it’s his last oratorio, but intriguingly all the arias stem from his earliest years in Rome,” he says.

“There was a piece he wrote, Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno [The Triumph of Time and Disillusion], in Rome in 1708, and he wrote it for commission. It’s two acts and it’s in Italian. It’s an allegory about Beauty being misled by Pleasure and having to be corrected by Time and Counsel.

“That went through more than one stage between that first version and the 1757 version, which is the one we’re going to perform. A lot of choruses were added from other works, so it’s an amalgam, a sort of encyclopaedia of Handel. It’s got the most fabulous music in it and you never hear it.”

For bass player Judith Evans, who founded the orchestra in May 2014 with cellist Gabriel Amherst, the revival of this rarely-performed work neatly highlights its link to the ensemble’s name. “It makes people understand why we’re called what we are,” she says. “The words time and truth seem to relate to what we do, as in period instrument performance and trying to protect the integrity of the composition, so in that way we’re searching for a type of truth.”

Soloists for the oratorio – which is also being performed in Tetbury and King’s Place, London, before the Oxford performance – are sopranos Mhairi Lawson and Katherine Crompton, countertenor Alexander Chance, tenor Nick Pritchard and bass Matthew Brook.

The event marks the start of a busy autumn season for the orchestra. On November 9, the players return to the Sheldonian Theatre for In Memoriam, a special concert marking the centenary of the Armistice. For this they will be joined by choirs from various Oxford colleges and the Oxford Girls’ Choir to perform Purcell’s Funeral Sentences, Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and Mozart’s Requiem.

The mood changes just under two weeks later, on November 22 – St Cecilia’s Day – with a celebration of the 350th birthday of French baroque composer Francois Couperin at the Holywell Music Room. The year ends with the orchestra’s traditional Messiah, to be performed at St Mary’s Church, Tetbury, on December 15, and at the University Church, Oxford, on December 22.

“This is the most packed season we’ve had in Oxford,” Edward says. “What we’re wanting to do is engender a local audience who know and love us, who turn out for us, and who know that we’re their period orchestra.”

“We wanted a sense of ownership for both the musicians and the city, and that is becoming a reality,” adds Judith.

“We see the same faces a lot at concerts, which is really nice, and some of those have become volunteers for us. It makes it all worthwhile when you get a good audience. In another five years’ time, who knows where we might be?”

  • Handel: The Triumph of Time and Truth, Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford, Saturday.
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