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Spotlight - Handel: Arias / Russell Oberlin


Release Date: 03/13/2007 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 000818502   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Albert FullerRussell Oberlin
Conductor:  Thomas Dunn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baroque Chamber Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews



HANDEL Messiah: But who may abide the day of His coming. How beautiful are the feet. Israel in Egypt: Their land brought forth frogs. Thou shalt bring them in. Muzio Scaevola: Ah dolce nome! Rodelinda: Vivi, tiranno! Dove sei, amato bene. Radamisto: Ombra cara Russell Oberlin (ct); Thomas Dunn, cond; Albert Fuller (hpd); Baroque Read more CO DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 000818502 (47:43)


Over the years, I’ve heard reactions to the countertenor voice of Russell Oberlin (b. 1928) that have ranged from attractive to “downright weird.” I’ve never understood the latter, but then, I first discovered his recordings upon the recommendation of a friend who called Oberlin an Irish tenor with a stratospheric top. That helped, upon first exposure. So did the kind of exposure I inadvertently chose, an old Lyrichord LP called “English Medieval Songs.” The tessitura of its selections was predominantly though not exclusively in the high tenor range, so I got a chance to hear Oberlin’s sweet leggiero sound in Worldes blis ne last no throwe before listening to more of the unusual upward extension in Man mei longe him lives wene . From there, it was an easy move to the Handel and Purcell alto material, and much easier than trying to stomach Alfred Deller’s disembodied falsetto. (Deller was a baritone in his “real” register. Oberlin’s voice was simply a tenor that climbed naturally into the alto range.)


Unfortunately, Oberlin had ceased performing and recording by the mid 1960s, years before I discovered his albums. In several interviews over the years, I’ve heard him refer to having realized after a serious illness that he had begun living on the principal of his voice, rather than its interest. He became a professor of music at Hunter College, produced an edition of Purcell’s songs, and occasionally performed roles in legitimate theater, on and off Broadway. I don’t recall seeing a re-release of his records for some time, so this CD, a reissue of his 1959 Handel disc, is a welcome reintroduction to a distinguished artist.


There are many things to admire in this album. “Vivi, tiranno!” displays an accuracy of coloratura, ease of production across the alto range, and a bedrock confidence that is the emotional essence of the piece. The moving “Ombra cara” reveals warmth of phrasing, good breath support, and a knowledge of bel canto . It also finishes with a cadenza of rapid figurations that includes a high F, descends circuitously to a middle D, then quickly runs back up, each note separate and secure. “Their land brought forth frogs” is a good example of his fine enunciation, while “Thou shalt bring them in” at an appropriate, moderately slow tempo supplies a good example of breath support and tonal evenness. Its central section is even better, with a mix of held notes and brief but perfectly placed figuration on the phrase, “In a sanctuary.”


Modern performers will point out the historical inaccuracies of the editions used, and the lack of a genuine trill (Oberlin uses the beat of his vibrato, instead). These criticisms miss the point. Oberlin was a pioneer in this repertoire, in more ways than one; not merely as a countertenor at a time when that voice was largely unaccepted, but also as a performer of Handel and Purcell in the US, and as an opera singer possessing fine coloratura. This was decades before such facility became common, nearly a half century before Handel’s operatic rehabilitation on an international level began in earnest. Oberlin is, by all accounts, a modest man, but he has a lot to be immodest about. This album gives several clues why.


The sound is good early stereo, with standard placement of the soloist very close to the mike. The timings, which were acceptable then, are parsimonious now, and Deutsche Grammophon doesn’t help its case by providing skimpy notes.


That aside, definitely recommended. Oberlin wasn’t merely a pioneer, as this disc shows. He was also a damn fine singer.


FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
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Works on This Recording

1.
Messiah, HWV 56: But who may abide the day of His coming? by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Albert Fuller (Harpsichord), Russell Oberlin (Countertenor)
Conductor:  Thomas Dunn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baroque Chamber Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1742; London, England 
2.
Messiah, HWV 56: How beautiful are the feet of them by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Albert Fuller (Harpsichord), Russell Oberlin (Countertenor)
Conductor:  Thomas Dunn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baroque Chamber Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1742; London, England 
3.
Israel in Egypt, HWV 54: Their land brought forth frogs by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Albert Fuller (Harpsichord), Russell Oberlin (Countertenor)
Conductor:  Thomas Dunn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baroque Chamber Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1739; London, England 
4.
Israel in Egypt, HWV 54: Thou shalt bring them in by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Albert Fuller (Harpsichord), Russell Oberlin (Countertenor)
Conductor:  Thomas Dunn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baroque Chamber Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1739; London, England 
Notes: Composition written: London, England (1739).
Composition revised: London, England (1756). 
5.
Muzio Scevola, HWV 13: Ah, dolce nome by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Albert Fuller (Harpsichord), Russell Oberlin (Countertenor)
Conductor:  Thomas Dunn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Baroque Chamber Orchestra
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1721; London, England 

Sound Samples

Messiah / Part 1: "But who may abide the day of his coming"
Messiah / Part 2: "How beautiful are the feet"
Israel in Egypt / Part 1: Exodus: No.5 Air: "Their land brought forth frogs"
Israel in Egypt / Part 2: Moses' Song: No.26 Air: "Thou shalt bring them"
Muzio Scevola, HWV 13 / Act 3: "Ah dolce nome!"
Rodelinda / Act 3: Vivi, tiranno, io t'ho scampato
Rodelinda / Act 1: Dove sei, amato bene?
Radamisto / Act 2: "Ombra cara"

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