This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.
Notes and Editorial Reviews
Christopher Hogwood has assembled a strong cast: Anthony Rolfe Johnson's and Patrizia Kwella's duet is heartrendingly beautiful, and David Thomas as the savage Haman is rightly blood-chilling.
Though mentioned in all the textbooks as the first English oratorio, Esther is nowadays rarely to be heard. In fact, it achieved its oratorio form more or less by accident. It started life as a masque loosely based on Racine, privately produced while Handel was composer-in-residence to the wealthy profiteer who became the Duke of Chandos; but later it was revived, and when, in 1732, an unauthorized public performance was advertised, Handel retorted by organizing a much revised and expanded version. The Bishop of London, however,
would not permit a Biblical subject to be presented in a theatre by such morally questionable characters as professional singers, and so the piece was mounted with "no action on the stage". What the worthy bishop would have said had he also known that slightly less than half the score had been adapted from Handel's Brockes Passion makes for interesting conjecture. The original version of Esther, here recorded (technically very well) for the first time, is certainly uneven musically, and the dramatic construction is such that motivation for the action is not properly explained, and things take some time to get moving.
Nevertheless, the work contains some fine music, and Christopher Hogwood has assembled a strong cast, chief among them Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Patrizia Kwella as the Persian king and his Jewish wife (their duet, "Who calls my parting soul", is heartrendingly beautiful) and David Thomas as the savage Haman, who has ordered the extermination of the entire Jewish people (his very first aria is rightly blood-chilling). All three artists are at the top of their very considerable form. But we also find Ian Partridge displaying a fine sense of line and Emma Kirkby radiating joyous exaltation, in very minor parts, and the alto Drew Minter makes an extremely favourable impression. The chorus, to which Handel allotted an unusually large role—the finale of the work is a kind of choral scena, which at nearly 11 minutes might indeed be considered disproportionate—sings with vigour and precision, if not that much nuance (despite the example before them of Rolfe Johnson's sensitivity); the intonation of the Westminster Cathedral boys is not always above criticism. Handel's harmonic resource and his choice of instrumental colours are often striking: near the beginning there is a hauntingly lovely aria with a solo oboe and pizzicato strings, and shortly afterwards a soprano solo with obbligato harp (evidently a fairly simple instrument confined to notes in the scale of C): Part 2 of the work opens with a pompous invocation and chorus in which the horns of the previous year's Water Music—and indeed some of its material—reappear with panache. It is good to have this neglected work on record, particularly in its vivid CD presentation.
-- Gramophone [12/1985]
Works on This Recording
Esther, HWV 50b by George Frideric Handel
Emma Kirkby (Soprano),
Patrizia Kwella (Soprano),
Drew Minter (Countertenor),
Anthony Rolfe Johnson (Tenor),
David Thomas (Bass),
Ian Partridge (Tenor),
Paul Elliott (Countertenor)
Academy of Ancient Music
Written: 1732; London, England
Length: 97 Minutes 0 Secs.
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