Notes and Editorial Reviews
This beautiful, moving oratorio has been lucky on discs. Currently available are John Eliot Gardiner's superb account on Philips and a performance on Naxos led by Joachim Carlos Martini, which, if not up to Gardiner's level, is very good and offered at a bargain price. Now Paul McCreesh (along with a first-rate cast) has thrown his hat into the ring and, by a slim margin, his performance is the preferred one.
McCreesh properly treats the oratorio as drama. Saul's rages and irrationality are clearly and frighteningly delineated not only through the remarkably expressive and fluid singing of Neal Davies, but in the crispness of the orchestral attacks. Similarly Jonathan's tenderness and
warmth, so ably portrayed by Mark Padmore, is invariably accompanied by a gentleness and almost vocal legato in the string tone. As in Gardiner's performance, David is sung by a countertenor (it was composed for a mezzo-soprano), and Andreas Scholl continues his recorded triumphs with an impersonation filled with rich tone, capable of communicating anger as well as grief, and his ease with coloratura is awe-inspiring. His sound is the opposite of opaque; there is wonderful focus in every word (mostly intelligible and unaccented).
Susan Gritton dazzles as Merab in her first-act "Capricious man!", and later sings with true love and understanding in the "soprano" aria "In sweetest harmony". I found Nancy Argenta's tone a bit sharp-edged at first but she soon settles in and delivers Michal's music with appropriate youthfulness and urgency. Kudos go to Paul Agnew, who sings the High Priest elegantly and does not overdo the Witch of Endor's music. The other soloists are top-notch, and there is no praise high enough for the Gabrieli Consort and Players. The chorus is just the right size--it can overwhelm the music if too grand--and its laments are particularly noteworthy. The sonics are superb, with the carillon crystal clear, the organ audible but not too underlined, and all the instrumental and vocal lines discernible. The Gardiner is wonderful--but if you're looking for the best, this is it.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Saul, HWV 53 by George Frideric Handel
Mark Padmore (Tenor),
Susan Gritton (Soprano),
Nancy Argenta (Soprano),
Paul Agnew (Tenor),
Jonathan Lemalu (Bass Baritone),
Angus Smith (Tenor),
Julian Clarkson (Bass),
Tom Phillips (Tenor),
Susan Hemington Jones (Soprano),
Andreas Scholl (Countertenor),
Neal Davies (Bass Baritone)
Written: 1738-1739; London, England
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