Notes and Editorial Reviews
This new recording of Handel's patriotic reaction to the 1745
Jacobite rebellion comes with a rather exotic pedigree. The
choir is from Namur, the orchestra is also French, the conductor
Argentinean and the soloists, judging by their names, come from
a variety of non-anglophone countries.
The lack of a tradition of singing in English in Southern Europe
has inhibited the growth of performance of Handelian oratorio
alongside other baroque pieces. But, as conductor Leonardo Garcia
Alarcon points out in his notes in the CD
his career Handel worked with Italian singers in polyglot performances.
All well and good, but the proof of any recording is in the
And from the first notes of the overture, this performance has
terrific vividness and drama. Les Agremens are a decent-sized
band, with 15 string players. Under Alarcon's lively direction
they give Handel's overture a crisp and infectious impetus which
carries you away.
This is carried over into the first duet, From this dread
scene, between Maria Soledad de la Rosa and Mariana Reweski.
Both have strong voices but with a good feel for Handel's line.
De la Rosa has a distinctive timbre - which reminded me of mezzo-soprano
Susan Bickley - giving the line a strength not always found
in Handelian sopranos. The soloists are all allocated to the
named roles so that Reweski is the Israelitish Man, de la Rosa
the Israelitish Woman.
Alejandro Meerapfel is Simon (Judas Maccabeus's brother). Meerapfel's
lovely baritone and capability with baroque idiom stands out
on a disc where all the soloists are strong. I loved Meerapfel's
voice, his focused flexibility and the way he makes the words
tell. Despite singing English with a strong accent, he made
sure that the text was comprehensible.
In the title role Makato Sakurada sings with elegance, but lacking
the bravura and dramatic strength which the role needs.
Alto Fabian Schofrin provides strong support in the smaller
roles of the Priest and the Messenger.
The Choeur de Chambre de Namur are a fine chamber choir, numbering
some twenty singers and they give a fine musical performance
of the score. They show a compatibility with this music that
would be the envy of many English choruses. But their English
is by no means perfect, and as with many non-English choirs
in this repertory, they just don't make enough of the words.
Oratorio is about text and narrative; it is important that the
choir's significant role in this is not compromised.
The soloists all do a heroic job at projecting the English text
and all sing with strong accents; you would never mistake this
for an Anglophone performance. And it is to the group's credit
that they have note taken the easy route and cast the soloists
from Anglophone or Scandinavian singers.
Alarcon uses two instrumental movements from Joshua (the
Solemn March and the Introduction to Act 3) as well as giving
the priest the aria Cease thy anguish from Athalia.
Over and above the language issue, there is one item which might
annoy purists. Alarcon makes extensive use of the harpsichord
and plucked continuo in the choruses, where Handel's habit was
to use organ continuo in the choruses.
Judas Maccabeus is not one of the top-rank Handel oratorios,
but it has some terrific moments. Here it is given a vivid and
involving performance by Alarcon, his French choir and orchestra
and polyglot soloists; they respond to the drama in Handel's
music. If you can get beyond the limitations of the sung English
then this is for you.
-- Robert Hugill, MusicWeb International Read less
Works on This Recording
Judas Maccabaeus, HWV 63 by George Frideric Handel
Etienne Debaisieux (Bass),
Fabian Schofrin (Counter Tenor),
Alejandro Meerapfel (Baritone),
Makoto Sakurada (Tenor),
Mariana Rewerski (Mezzo Soprano)
Leonardo Garcia Alarcòn
Namur Chamber Choir,
Written: 1747; London, England
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