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Handel: Alexander's Feast / Neumann, Kermes, Hartinger, Wolff

Release Date: 07/14/2009 
Label:  Carus   Catalog #: 83424   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Simone KermesVirgil HartingerKonstantin Wolff
Conductor:  Peter Neumann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne Chamber ChoirCollegium Cartusianum
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 2 Hours 16 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.

Handel's Alexander's Feast, a setting of a 1697 Cecilian ode by John Dryden, was a success from the outset and it continued its popularity throughout the composer's lifetime and beyond (Mozart reorchestrated it in 1790 for Viennese audiences, and it was a favorite at the lavish 18th- and 19th-century Handel festivals in England). It's easy to understand why when you hear the reams of gorgeous melody, the rousing choruses, and the dramatic airs, not to mention the abundant and varied orchestral colors Handel devised for this celebration of "The Power of Musick" (the work's subtitle).

So why, then, are there not more
Read more modern performances and recordings of this thoroughly enjoyable creation, which you also could say is a celebration of "the power of Handel"? For one, it's hard to nail down what the work is--it's neither oratorio nor opera; it's a theatrical work, but not overly "dramatic"--in other words, there's not really a plot. And then there's its length--too long for one disc but way too short for two, and too short for an evening at the theatre. For Handel's own performances, he just threw in a couple of concertos (one of them the Concerto grosso in C, now known as the "Alexander's Feast" concerto) and one of his Italian cantatas; later he added a new setting of another Dryden Cecilian Ode--Ode for St. Cecilia's Day--which is very often recorded and appears here as the accompanying work, as it did on the occasion of Handel's November 1739 performance.

Along with the reference versions of Alexander's Feast--both excellent and with different, sensible couplings--we can now add this newcomer, whose value is enhanced by a first-rate rendition of the Ode, all of which is captured in very fine sound from a 2008 live performance at a Cologne church. It's rare to find a performance of any of Handel's English works by a German chorus and soloists, but with a couple of relatively minor exceptions, this one only raises the question "why not?"

The instrumental playing, by the Collegium Cartusianum, could be just a bit "tighter" and more crisply executed in places, but overall it's terrific and very much in the spirit of Handel's ambitious scoring. The choir is fabulous, really involved and reveling in the extrovert character of choruses such as The list'ning crowd and The many rend the skies. Bass Konstantin Wolff is superb; one of the disc's highlights is his riveting rendition of "Revenge, Timotheus cries" (it's hard to imagine this being better sung), enriched by the terrific instrumental ensemble playing. Another memorable few minutes is soprano Simone Kermes' "Thais led the way", so wonderfully, sensitively interpreted--as is her performance of the Ode's "What passion cannot Music raise", one of the most devastatingly beautiful airs in all of Handel's output, joined here by a perfectly realized cello obbligato by Juris Teichmanis.

In fact, the music of the Ode seems to inspire all of these performers to an even higher level of excellence than in the whole of Alexander's Feast--and I would go as far as to say that this disc is worth its price for the Ode alone. You won't find a better version on disc. My only reservation here concerns tenor Virgil Hartinger's English diction: it's nearly impossible to discern what he's singing much of the time--and I wouldn't bring this up except for the fact that he has such a large role throughout both works. I have absolutely no complaints regarding his singing--he is outstanding in technique and interpretive facility, and his tone is eminently pleasing. And when it comes right down to it, I will keep this wonderful recording close at hand, with other favorite Handel discs, for the exceptional Ode, and for those lovely soprano and bass airs in Alexander's Feast. Strongly recommended.

--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Alexander's Feast, HWV 75 "Ode for St Cecilia's Day" by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Simone Kermes (Soprano), Virgil Hartinger (Tenor), Konstantin Wolff (Baritone),
Konstantin Wolff (Bass Baritone)
Conductor:  Peter Neumann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne Chamber Choir,  Collegium Cartusianum
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1736; London, England 
Ode for St Cecilia's Day, HWV 76 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Virgil Hartinger (Tenor), Simone Kermes (Soprano), Konstantin Wolff (Bass Baritone)
Conductor:  Peter Neumann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Cologne Chamber Choir,  Collegium Cartusianum
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1739; London, England 

Featured Sound Samples

Alexander's Feast, HWV 75 "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day": Part I: Arioso: "Softly sweet in Lydian measures"
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75 "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day": Part I: Aria: "War, he sung, is toil and trouble"
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75 "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day": Part I: Chorus: "The many rend the skies"

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