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Handel: Hercules / Martini, Wemyss, Sämann, Schoch


Release Date: 05/27/2008 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8557960   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Franz SchneiderNicola WemyssFranz VitzthumGerlinde Sämann,   ... 
Conductor:  Joachim Carlos Martini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Frankfurt Baroque OrchestraFrankfurt Junge Kantorei
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 3 Hours 10 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

A crystalline, uplifting and extrovert conception.

Handel wrote Hercules towards the end his composing career, in 1745, when he had chosen to concentrate on oratorio rather than opera – probably as much for commercial reasons as any other. It was not a success: the withdrawal of at least one principle, audience indifference and a general run of theatrical bad luck meant it received few, and undistinguished, performances. Even when revived seven years later, Hercules didn’t seem to inspire its London audiences. It’s generally acknowledged not only that Handel’s entrepreneurial drive had flagged by this time, but also that public taste was moving on.

What’s more, Hercules has neither the strong religious
Read more component nor the spectacle of Italian opera. Its libretto is by Thomas Broughton of Salisbury drawing on Sophocles’ Trachiniae, Senecca’s Hercules Oetaeus and the Metamorphoses. His construction, one that Handel built on with outstanding skills and sensitivities, was more akin to musical drama. That was, indeed, how Hercules was actually first billed – a drama per musica with ‘acts’ rather than ‘parts’. The chief theme is jealousy; there is much scope for some fine singing to ‘illustrate’ the inevitable tensions that surround that emotion.

We’re now lucky to have this stylish and accomplished performance from a cast of singers and players well-versed in the idiom and who provide a clear, compelling and simple account; it’s full of punch, nuance and consistency in equal measure. The articulation of the English libretto is particularly pleasing, although that is further supplemented by dramatic insight from all the principles. Nicola Wemyss (Dejanira) navigates her way through Begone, my fears [CD1 tr.15] with grace and deftness – yet doesn’t overlook the implicit depths of feeling. Exemplary.

Hercules is the stock hero – off at war (for the last time, he hopes) at the beginning of Act I; he has captured the beautiful Iöle, of whom Hercules’ wife, Dejanira, is instantly jealous. Iöle repels the advances of Hyllus, not least because he killed her father. The work may be thought to have reached its conclusion, if one without climax, at the end of Act II when Dejanira’s jealousy is dispelled and Iöle is to be set free. But the melodramatic episode of Hercules’ death (burnt by the poison on the robe his wife used to assure herself of his fidelity) and eventual immolation take up Act 3. Things nevertheless end happily (for some) with the marriage of Iöle and Hyllus.

The human drama in this really quite simple set of dilemmas and struggles relies on the music to make its impact; Handel certainly devoted much thought to conveying as forcefully as needed the subtleties of apology (Dejanira for doubting Hercules’ fidelity), acceptance of originally rejected love (Iöle’s for Hyllus) and regret (almost everyone has something to lament). It’s generally felt he succeeded admirably and that Hercules is one of his better oratorios. There are five current complete recordings in the catalogue.

The strongest competitive recording is undoubtedly that by Minkowski and Les Musiciens du Louvre on Archiv (4695322). That remains a classic, and something of a benchmark so the singing, playing and theatrical and musical direction on the current release would have had to be extraordinary to better it. They aren’t, quite – but they are very good indeed and full of life and integrity. There really is much to enjoy here. In particular, the seemingly effortless strength used to convey character… there is control and conviction in the singing of an aria like Hyllus Where congeal’d the northern streams [CD1 tr.12] that’s well-supported by the Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra’s strings. It really zings along into the following chorus, O filial piety.

The booklet that comes with this three-CD set is rather sparse: a short essay with more general background than focus on Hercules itself; a synopsis of the plot in English and German; and short resumés of the singers only, in English. So this may not be your first choice. But Naxos has done the work proud with this crystalline conception and execution of one of Handel’s last oratorios from confident performers who are obviously enjoying everything there is to enjoy in its uplifting and extrovert score.

This performance – a live recording – has pace, vibrancy and delicacy. But it’s the sense of energy and delight in making this music that will probably remain with you on repeated listenings.

-- Mark Sealey, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
Hercules, HWV 60 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Franz Schneider (Bass), Nicola Wemyss (Mezzo Soprano), Franz Vitzthum (Countertenor),
Gerlinde Sämann (Soprano), Knut Schoch (Tenor), Peter Kooy (Bass),
Liselotte Kuhn (Soprano)
Conductor:  Joachim Carlos Martini
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra,  Frankfurt Junge Kantorei
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1744; London, England 
Length: 189 Minutes 49 Secs. 

Sound Samples

Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Overture
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Menuetto
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Accompagnato: See, with what sad dejection in her looks (Lichas)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Aria: No longer, fate, relentless frown (Lichas)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Aria: The world, when day's career is run (Dejanira)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Recitative: Princess! Be comforted, and hope the best! (Lichas, Dejanira, Hyllus)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Arioso: I feel, I feel the god, he swells my breast (Hyllus)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Aria: There, in myrtle shades reclin'd (Dejanira)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Aria: Where congeal'd the northern streams (Hyllus)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: O filial piety, O gen'rous love! (Chorus)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Aria: Begone, my fears, fly hence, away (Dejanira)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Recitative: A train of captives, red with honest wounds (Lichas, Hyllus, Dejanira)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Aria: The smiling hours of joyful train (Lichas)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Let none despair; relief may come though late (Chorus)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Recitative: Ye faithful followers of the wretched Iole (Iole, First Oechalian)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Aria: Daughter of Gods, bright liberty! (Iole)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: March
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Recitative: Thanks to the pow'rs above (Hercules, Iole)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Aria: My father! Ah, methinks I see (Iole)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Aria: The God of battle quits the bloody field (Hercules)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act I: Crown with festal pomp the day (Chorus)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Sinfonia
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Aria: How blest the maid ordained to dwell (Iole)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Recitative: It must be so! Fame speaks aloud my wrongs (Dejanira, Iole)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Aria: When beauty sorrow's liv'ry wears (Dejanira)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Recitative: Whence this unjust suspicion? (Iole, Dejanira)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Ah, think what ills the jealous prove! (Iole)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Aria: As stars, that rise and disappear (Lichas)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Jealousy! Infernal pest (Chorus)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Recitative: She knows my passion, and has heard me breathe (Hyllus, Iole)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Aria: Banish love from thy breast (Iole)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Aria: From celestial seats descending (Hyllus)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Wanton god of amorous fires (Chorus)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Aria: Alcides' name in latest story (Hercules)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Aria: Resign thy club and lion's spoils (Dejanira)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Recitative: You are deceived! (Hercules, Dejanira)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Aria: Cease, ruler of the day, to rise (Dejanira)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Recitative: Some kinder pow'r inspire me to regain (Dejanira, Lichas)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Aria: Constant lovers never roving (Lichas)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Recitative: But see, the princess Iole. Retire! (Dejanira, Iole)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Aria: Still caressing and caress'd (Iole)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Duet: Joys of freedom, joys of pow'r (Dejanira, Iole)
Hercules, HWV 60: Act II: Love and Hymen, hand in hand (Chorus)

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