Notes and Editorial Reviews
Part of a series of 5 Special Luxury Boxes to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the composer's death. In this specially priced set, Harmonia Mundi combines two of their greatest Handel Oratorio recordings.
Saul is one of Handel's largest oratorios; its rich orchestration includes trumpets, trombones, timpani, harp, and carillon. René Jacobs certainly wrests every drop of color from this luxurious array of instruments, particularly in the choruses, which are gloriously grand but also extremely exciting. In Nos. 20-24, where the populace (with maddening relentlessness) praises David above Saul to the incessant jangling of the carillon, it's easy to understand
why the king objects to the unseemly revelry. Handel's music wonderfully suggests both the joyous celebration and seeds of jealousy being planted in Saul's mind. Similarly, Jacobs' careful choice of colors for the continuo part makes the famous "Dead March" far more solemn than it often sounds, an appropriate introduction to Handel's "Elegy on the death of Saul and Jonathan".
The cast is nearly ideal. Rosemary Joshua and Emma Bell, as Michal and Merab respectively, have nicely differentiated timbres. This is important because they both have a lot to sing in the first act, and along with David's countertenor this means that the lion's share of the work goes to high voices. Both sing beautifully, though Joshua could work a bit more on differentiating her short trills from other types of ornamentation. Countertenor Lawrence Zazzo's David also is very fine, more masculine and less obviously "falsetto" than either James Bowman for Mackerras or Derek Lee Ragin for Gardiner. Tenor Michael Slattery, in the dual role of the High Priest and the Witch of Endor, has a blast with the latter, aided in no small degree by Jacobs' atmospheric conducting. This scene, with Gidon Saks an aptly tormented Saul, is a highlight of the performance.
As Jonathan, Jeremy Ovenden sounds a bit stiff and formal. He sings quite well, as do all the cast members, but his oratorio-like delivery stands out somewhat given Jacobs' highly operatic, dramatic approach to the work. As always, the RIAS Kammerchor is an absolute joy to listen to in the choruses, and the playing of Concerto Köln has plenty of "authentic" zest, but also some welcome beauty of tone. The oboes especially distinguish themselves with the outstanding accuracy and character of their playing, even at some very rapid tempos. Utterly natural engineering gives the big numbers the majesty they require without ever compromising the intimacy of the arias. Best of all, HM crams the whole work onto two CDs, as compared to Mackerras' and Gardiner's three. In short, this splendid release is the new reference edition for Handel's Saul, and a marvelous listening experience for choral music aficionados.
– David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com [11/1/2005]
Performance: ****/Sound: *****
As we might expect, René Jacobs brings a livelier and more immediate sense of theatre to Handel’s music than his rivals. His orchestra is slightly larger than the others and his continuo department more elaborate with a strengthened double bass line that often proves effective. Lawrence Zazzo and Neal Davies turn in excellent performances of their music, the former proving, I should imagine, a worthy successor to Handel’s young castrato Gaetano Guadagni. The Clare College Choir, of which the upper strands are provided by women, is very good indeed proving capable of colourfully dramatic declamation.
– Nicholas Anderson, BBC Music Magazine
My personal favorite Messiah recording is René Jacobs conducting the 1750 version with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra and Choir of Clare College (Harmonia Mundi). The 1750 version of the score (conducted by the composer) is preferred not only for its transparency and spare orchestration, but for its incorporation of the last revisions that Handel made for aesthetic reasons instead of practical concerns. Jacobs and his chambersized, period-instrument ensemble fill Messiah with dramatic urgency within a lean framework. The soloists are expressive and imbue their arias with tasteful ornamentation, with countertenor Lawrence Zazzo providing some exotic color.
– Ben Finane, Listen [11/2009]
Works on This Recording
Messiah, HWV 56 by George Frideric Handel
Kerstin Avemo (Soprano),
Kobie van Rensburg (Tenor),
Lawrence Zazzo (Countertenor),
Patricia Bardon (Mezzo Soprano),
Neal Davies (Bass Baritone)
Clare College Choir,
Freiburg Baroque Orchestra
Written: 1741; London, England
Saul, HWV 53 by George Frideric Handel
Gidon Saks (Bass Baritone),
Lawrence Zazzo (Countertenor),
Emma Bell (Soprano),
Henry Waddington (Baritone),
Michael Slattery (Tenor),
Finnur Bjarnason (Tenor)
Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus,
Written: 1738-1739; London, England
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene I: Chorus "How Excellent Thy Name, O Lord"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene I: Air "An Infant Raised by Thy Command" - Trio "Along the Monster Atheist Strode"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene I: "The Youth Inspired by Thee, O Lord" - Chorus "How Excellent Thy Name, O Lord"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene II: "He Comes, He Comes!" - Air "O God-like Youth!" - Behold, O King, the Brave, Victorious Youth
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene II: Air "O King, Your Favours With Delight" - "Oh Early Piety!"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene II: Air "What Abject Thoughts a Prince Can Have!" - "Yet Think, On Whom This Honour You Bestow"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene II: Air "Birth and Fortune I Despise!"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene II: "Go On, Illustrious Pair!" - Air "While Yet Thy Tide of Blood Runs High"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene II: "Thou, Merab, First In Birth, First In Honour" - Air "My Soul Rejects the Thought With Scorn" / 18. Air "See, With What a Scornful Air" / 19. Air "Ah, Lovely Youth, Wast Thou Designed"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene II: "Symphony" - "Already See the Daughters of the Land" / Scene III. 22. Chorus "Welcome, Welcome, Mighty King!"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene III: "What Do I Hear?" - Chorus "David His Ten Thousands Slew" / 25. "To Him Ten Thousands" / 26. Air "With Rage I Shall Start Burst His Praises to Hear"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene IV: "Imprudent Women!" - Air "Fell Rage and Black Despair Possessed"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene IV: "This But the Smallest Part of Harmony" - "By Thee This Universal Frame"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene V: "Racked With Infernal Pains" - Air "O Lord, Whose Mercies Numberless"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene V: Symphony - "Tis All in Vain, His Fury Still Continues"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene V: Air "A Serpent, In My Bosom Warmed" - "Has He Escaped My Rage?"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene V: Air "Capricious Man"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene VI: "O Filial Pity!" - Air "No, Cruel Father, No!"
Saul, HWV 53: Act I, Scene VI: Air "O Lord, Whose Providence" - Chorus "Preserve Him for the Glory of Thy Name"
Saul, HWV 53: Act II, Scene I: Chorus "Envy! Eldest Born of Hell!"
Saul, HWV 53: Act II, Scene II: "Ah! Dearest Friend" Air "But Sooner Jordan's Stream, I Swear"
Saul, HWV 53: Act II, Scene II: "Oh Strange Vicissitude!" - Air "Such Haughty Beauties Rather Move"
Saul, HWV 53: Act II, Scene II: "My Father Comes" - Scene III. "Hast Thou Obeyed My Orders"
Saul, HWV 53: Act II. Scene III. 49. Air "Sin Not, O King, Against the Youth" / 50. Air "As Great Jehovah Lives" / 51. Air "From Cities Stormed, and Battles Won"
Saul, HWV 53: Act II. Scene IV. 52. "Appear, My Friend" / 53. Air "Your Words, O King, My Loyal Heart" / 54. "Yes, He Shall Wed My Daughter!"
Saul, HWV 53: Act II. Scene V. 55. "A Father's Will Has Authorised My Love" / 56. Duet "O Fairest of Ten Thousand Fair" / 57. Chorus "Is There a Man"
Saul, HWV 53: Act II. Scene V. 58. Symphony
Saul, HWV 53: Act II. Scene VI. 59. "Thy Father Is As Cruel" / 60. Duet "At Persecution I Can Laugh"
Saul, HWV 53: Act II. Scene VII. 61. "Whom Dost Thou Seek" / 62. Air "No, No Let the Guilty Tremble"
Saul, HWV 53: Act II. Scene VIII. 63. "Mean As He Was, He Is My Brother Now" / 64. Air "Author of Peace, Who Canst Controul"
Saul, HWV 53: Act II. Scene IX. 65. Symphony
Saul, HWV 53: Act II. Scene IX. 66. "The Time At Length Is Come" / Scene X. 67. "Where Is the Son of Jesse?"
Saul, HWV 53: Act II. Scene X. 68. Chorus "Oh Fatal Consequence of Rage"
Saul, HWV 53: Act III. Scene I. 69. "Wretch That I Am" / 70. "Tis Said, Here Lives a Woman"
Saul, HWV 53: Act III. Scene II. 71. "With Me What Would'st Thou" / 72. Air "Infernal Spirits"
Saul, HWV 53: Act III. Scene III. 73. "Why Hast Thou Forced Me from the Reals of Peace"
Saul, HWV 53: Act III. Scene III. 74. Symphony
Saul, HWV 53: Act III. Scene IV. 75. "Whence Comest Thou?" / 76. Air "Impious Wretch, of Race Accurst!"
Saul, HWV 53: Act III. Scene IV. 77. March
Saul, HWV 53: Act III. Scene V. 78. Chorus "Mourn, Israel"
Saul, HWV 53: Act III. Scene V. 79. Air "Oh Let It Not In Gath Be Heard"
Saul, HWV 53: Act III. Scene V. 80. Air "From This Unhappy Day"
Saul: Act III, scene 5. N°81. Aria David: "Brave Jonathan his bow never drew" - N°82. Chorus: "Eagles were not so swift as they"
Saul, HWV 53: Act III. Scene V. 83. Air "In Sweetest Harmony They Lived!" / 84. "O Fatal Day!" / 85. "Ye Men of Judah, Weep No More!"
Saul, HWV 53: Act III. Scene V. 86. Chorus "Gird On Thy Sword, Thou Man of Might"
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