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: 1742; Dublin, Ireland
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
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