Notes and Editorial Reviews
Providing a fascinating selection of sacred choral music, this 5CD set, which features two of Handel’s earliest works as well as the crowning achievement of his career, is a must-buy.
The first - and best-known - work to be included in this set, Messiah is today one of the most frequently performed choral compositions in the history of European music. Written in three weeks during the late summer of 1741 and based on the Old and New Testaments of King James’ Bible, this three-act oratorio, which borrows extensively from Handel’s experience as an opera composer, traces the last days of Christ through to his ultimate glorification in heaven.
This masterpiece is complemented by two other sacred works that were
written much earlier in Handel’s career, the Johannes-Passion and La Resurrezione. Although the identity of the composer of the former has been disputed, it is generally agreed that Handel did write it the tender age of nineteen. Based on the 19th chapter of the Gospel of St John, together with 13 original lyrical numbers, this gem of a piece was followed four years later in 1708 by La Resurrezione – one of two oratorios completed during Handel’s sojourn to Rome.At a time when opera performances in the city were banned by papal decree, a sacred musical form such as this comprised a respectable alternative, and Contrasto Armonico’s historically informed performance is an assured presentation aimed at recreating how the music would have sounded at the time. All in all, this box set comprises a worthy addition to the Handel collector’s library.
• 24-page booklet featuring comprehensive notes about each of the works in this set.
• Complete sung texts available on www.brilliantclassics.com.
• Part of the Choral Classics series.
This Messiah, recorded live at Pieterskerk, Leiden in 1993, is one of three versions in the Cleobury/King’s College catalog, and it’s undoubtedly the best, in spite of the very occasional audience noise. The sound is actually very good, better than most studio-controlled efforts, and the choral singing is terrific—the legatos gorgeously flowing, the articulation in all those quick-running melismas clean and crisp without affected accenting, the overall tone quality vibrant and perfectly tuned. Likewise for the orchestra, one of the better baroque bands around back then. Cleobury's tempos are expertly judged, balances between chorus and orchestra allow everything to be heard. The soloists also make a well-matched quartet, excellent Handel singers all. John Mark Ainsley delivers one of the most solid, compelling “Ev’ry valleys” ever. Even if, as I do, you have a number of “favorite” Messiahs in your collection, once you hear this, you’ll be making a space for it next to those.
-- David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com [4/2011]
reviewing this recording issued as House of Classics 220304
La Resurrezione was the most elaborate entertainment Handel composed during his four-year visit to Italy. The oratorio was commissioned by the Marchese Ruspoli, and performed at his grand Roman palazzo on Easter Sunday 1708. Corelli led the unusually large orchestra of about 45 players, and the hall was decorated lavishly for the occasion. For its seventh recording, Contrasto Armonico provide new food for thought by performing La Resurrezione at the low pitch that was common in Rome in the early 1700s, but with the woodwind-players using higher-pitched instruments and transposing their parts down accordingly (as one imagines that wind-players probably imported from Venice might have done in Handel's performances). The sonorities achieved by this approach are highly effective, such as the slow middle section featuring two lyrical oboes in Maria Cleofe's "Naufragando" and the sorrowful recorders in Maria Maddalena's "Ferma l'ali". Another notable feature is Marco Vitale's sensible editorial solution for the lost trombone part; it plays the basso continuo line in all passages that feature trumpets.
Klaartje van Veldhoven's Angel is a bit reedy, but it is refreshing that Mitchell Sandler's Lucifero is a plausibly suave Prince of Darkness rather than the blustering pantomime villain one usually hears. Stefanie True's unobtrusive ornamentation in "Ho un non so che nel cor" is excellent, and she sings "Per me gia di morire" sweetly. I am less keen on Kirstine Gether's unusual timbre and unsteady shaping of lines (though the band plays "Vedo ii ciel" with radiant optimism) Marcel Beekman's singing is neat but plain. Contrasto Armonico's gently rhetorical playing, and Vitale's articulate harpsichord continuo, is good throughout. The pacing of the work is often a bit slower than one might expect, and such a patiently poetic character bespeaks Vitale's radically different approach to the bold dynamism that others prefer in this repertoire. The unforced and relaxed manner enables clarity of vocal and instrumental elocution, and, although some recitatives could have benefited from more animation, Vitale's interpretation is thoughtfully prepared and inquisitive.
-- David Vickers, Gramophone [9/2009]
reviewing this recording issued as Brilliant Classics 93805
St. John Passion
"The St. John Passion was long regarded as an early work by Handel, written in Hamburg in 1704. It had to be early, as there are few really Handelian fingerprints in the music. In the late 1960s though, musicologists started allocating it to Georg Böhm (1661-1733), a Thuringian-born composer who worked in Hamburg and Luneburg. He is remembered chiefly for his fine organ music and his influence on Bach. But the record booklet makes an interesting case for Handel's authorship, particularly as Handel's friend Mattheson was an advocate of the work.
It is a short piece (well, short for a passion, lasting some 60 minutes). It consists of rather short numbers, in a direct, simple style, generically late baroque rather than showing an specifically Handelian mannerisms. A number of the soloists are common to both recordings and here they make a fine case for the work, whoever it is by. It has a number of lovely moments including duets for two sopranos, two tenors and soprano and bass. Pilate plays quite a large role in the work and is strongly sung by Charles Brett."
-- Robert Hugill, MusicWeb International [6/2003)
reviewing this recording issued as Brilliant Classics 92003
Works on This Recording
Messiah, HWV 56 by George Frideric Handel
Alastair Miles (Bass),
Lynne Dawson (Soprano),
Hilary Summers (Alto),
John Mark Ainsley (Tenor)
Cambridge King's College Choir
Written: 1741; London, England
Date of Recording: 1994
Venue: Live St. Peter's Church, Leiden, Netherlands
Length: 134 Minutes 17 Secs.
St. John Passion by George Frideric Handel
József Moldvay (Baritone),
Mária Zádori (Soprano),
Ibolya Verebics (Soprano),
Judit Németh (Mezzo Soprano),
Martin Klietmann (Tenor),
Charles Brett (Countertenor),
Gábor Kállay (Tenor),
István Gáti (Baritone)
La resurrezione, HWV 47 by George Frideric Handel
Stefanie True (Soprano),
Kristine Gether (Alto),
Marcel Beekman (Tenor),
Mitchell Sandler (Bass)
Contrasto Armonico Baroque Orchestra
Written: circa 1708; Italy
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