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Handel: Saul / Gardiner, Miles, Dawson, Ragin, Ainsley

Release Date: 08/14/2007 
Label:  Philips   Catalog #: 000942802   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Donna BrownRuth HoltonLynne DawsonDerek Lee Ragin,   ... 
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque SoloistsMonteverdi Choir
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 2 Hours 38 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

HANDEL Saul John Eliot Gardiner, cond; Lynne Dawson (sop); Donna Brown (sop); Ruth Holton (sop); Derek Lee Ragin (ct); John Mark Ainsley (ten); Neil Mackie (ten); Philip Salmon (ten); Philip Slane (ten); Alastair Miles (bs); Richard Savage (bs); Simon Oberst (bs); Monteverdi Ch; English Baroque Soloists (period instruments) PHILIPS 000942802 (3 CDs: 158:44) Live: Göttingen 6/1989

Saul is the fourth of Handel’s English oratorios, written in 1738–39 as his career as Read more a composer of Italian opera was drawing to a close. His librettist was Charles Jennens, who would eventually provide texts for L’allegro, Messiah , and Belshazzar. It is clear that, in the wake of a failed subscription to an Italian opera season, Handel intended Saul to take London by storm. The score calls for a huge orchestra, including trombones, carillon, a large organ, and double-bass kettledrums. This splendid recording, first issued in 1991, is of a live performance originally presented at the Göttingen Handel Festival in June 1989.

It’s a difficult task to enumerate highlights of a recording that abounds in heightened moments. Among my favorites, however, are the sparkling act I, scene 3 depicting the dance of the women of Israel and including the choruses “Welcome, welcome mighty king” and “David his thousands slew,” and Saul’s aria, “With rage I shall burst”; Saul and the Witch of Endor (the latter sung by tenor Philip Salmon); and the closing anthem to David, “Gird on thy Sword.” Gardiner’s tempos throughout are graceful and appropriate; the forces always balanced. The Monteverdi choir produces its customary beautifully blended sound. And throughout, the soloists turn in a sequence of deeply affecting performances.

Despite the fact that his recording is now some 18 years old, for me it remains the best all-round Saul available. The more recent recording of René Jacobs/Concerto Cologne and the Berlin RIAS Chorus (Harmonia Mundi 901877) is the nearest competitor. The recorded sound is dimensional and clear. The use of original instruments is, of course, an incalculable advantage in portraying of shapes of Baroque phrasing, colors, and the dance-based tempos that form the rhythmical underpinning of the arias and choruses. The 20 or so voices of the Monteverdi Choir are capable of greater agility and clarity of texture than choruses more than twice as large. Add to this the special excitement of a live performance recording, and this is a Saul to conjure with.

FANFARE: Patrick Rucker
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Works on This Recording

Saul, HWV 53 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Donna Brown (Soprano), Ruth Holton (Soprano), Lynne Dawson (Soprano),
Derek Lee Ragin (Countertenor), Simon Oberst (Bass), Richard Savage (Bass),
Philip Slane (Tenor), Philip Salmon (Tenor), Neil Mackie (Tenor),
Alastair Miles (Bass), John Mark Ainsley (Tenor)
Conductor:  John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestra/Ensemble:  English Baroque Soloists,  Monteverdi Choir
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1738-1739; London, England 
Language: English 

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