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Handel: Alexander's Feast / Martini, Samann, Schoch, Mertens

Handel / Samann / Schoch / Mertens / Fbo / Martini
Release Date: 02/23/2010 
Label:  Naxos   Catalog #: 8572224  
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Klaus MertensGerlinde SamannKnut Schoch
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Frankfurt Baroque OrchestraJunge Kantorei
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

I came away from hearing this version with renewed enthusiasm for the work.
 
First, a confession. Much as I enjoy recordings of Handel’s operas in prospect, in practice by the end - and sometimes the start - of the third disc I am finding difficulty in paying full attention. Over-complex plots, lengthy secco recitatives and extended da capos all take their toll. Probably this reflects more on me than on the works, but maybe I am not alone and others too prefer Handel in shorter, more concentrated, bursts. For such people, if they have not encountered it before, I can confidently recommend “Alexander’s Feast”. It has great musical variety including choruses and arias of Read more considerable imagination and beauty, not too many da capo arias, and a text derived from a splendid poem by John Dryden. The plot concerns a feast given by Alexander the Great after his defeat of Darius, King of Persia, at which Alexander is entertained by Timotheus who arouses various emotions before being replaced by St Cecilia.
 
This recording is of a live performance and despite some reservations about it as heard on this disc it clearly was a very enjoyable event to be at. It gets off to a good start with an alert performance of the Overture; indeed the orchestra and Joachim Carlos Martini’s direction are the strongest points about this disc. They play with verve and colour, and great rhythmic bite. The soloists are less satisfactory, all adopting a somewhat heavy style with an occasionally hectoring tone that does not suit Handel’s vocal writing. In addition it soon becomes clear that none are native speakers of English and there are a few curious pronunciations and accentuations from the men and an almost total lack of verbal clarity from the soprano.
 
There is however a much greater problem with this disc. It is the actual sound of the chorus as heard here. I use those words advisedly, as it may well be that heard live they sounded fine, but as heard here they appear to be in a quite different, and much less suitable, acoustic to the soloists and orchestra. This boxy sound has a depressing effect every time the chorus sing. Although this is only in parts of the work it is frequent enough to be more than a trivial irritation. There is however the practical virtue of managing to include the whole work on a single disc, even with a brief additional harp movement representing Timotheus’ skill on the lyre - but not the Concerto which Handel himself included. This is not mentioned in Keith Anderson’s otherwise admirable notes. I understand that the text and a German translation are available on the Naxos website.
 
There is strong competition for CDs of “Alexander’s Feast”, and even restricting it to those at bargain price fine recordings are available conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt and Philip Ledger. The present version does nonetheless have solid virtues in terms of its general spirit and even, where necessary, verve. Despite my earlier comments, I was never bored listening to it and I did end with a renewed enthusiasm for the work. If you do not have a recording of it already this would certainly fill an important gap and give considerable pleasure, even if you may need to look elsewhere, possibly to the version by The Sixteen under Harry Christophers on two discs (but with extra material) to find fuller satisfaction.

-- John Sheppard, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1. Alexander's Feast, HWV 75 "Ode for St Cecilia's Day" by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Klaus Mertens (Bass), Gerlinde Samann (Soprano), Knut Schoch (Tenor)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra,  Junge Kantorei
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1736; London, England 

Sound Samples

Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: Overture
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: Recitative: 'Twas at the royal feast (Tenor)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part I: Air: Happy, happy, happy pair (Tenor, Chorus)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part I: Recitative: Timotheus, plac'd on high (Tenor)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: Accompagnato: The song began from Jove (Soprano)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: The list'ning Crowd (Chorus)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: Air: With ravish'd ears (Soprano)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: Recitative: The praise of Bacchus (Tenor)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: Air and Chorus: Bacchus, ever fair and young (Bass and Chorus)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: Recitative: Sooth'd with the sound (Tenor)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: Accompagnato: He chose a mournful muse (Soprano)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: Air: He sung Darius great and good (Soprano)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: Accompagnato: With downcast looks (Soprano)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: Behold Darius great and good (Chorus)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: Recitative: The mighty master smil'd to see (Tenor)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: Air: Softly sweet (Soprano)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: Air: War, he sung, is toil and trouble (Soprano)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: The many rend the skies (Chorus)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: Air: The Prince, unable to conceal his pain (Soprano)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 1: The many rend the skies (Chorus)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 2: Accompagnato and Chorus: Now strike the golden lyre (Tenor and Chorus)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 2: Air: Revenge, revenge, Timotheus cries (Bass)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 2: Accompagnato: Give the vengeance due (Tenor)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 2: Air: The princes applaud with a furious joy (Tenor)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 2: Air and Chorus: Thais led the way (Soprano and Chorus)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 2: Accompagnato and Chorus: Thus, long ago (Tenor)
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75: Part 2: Let old Timotheus yield the prize (Chorus)

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