Handel: Samson / Christophers, The Sixteen

Release Date: 1/1/2003
Label: Coro
Catalog Number: COR16008
Number of Discs: 3

Physical Format:

In Stock
Notes and Editorial Reviews
A good modern recording of Samson is overdue. It is extraordinary that this fine work, composed within weeks of Messiah, and in Handel’s day possibly the most popular of all his oratorios, should be represented on the Gramophone Database only by one version recorded nearly 20 years ago and the unidiomatic and heavily cut Harnoncourt recording made in 1992. The new one does not obliterate memories of the old, which captures performances by a generation of British Handel interpreters at their finest (Dame Janet Baker, Helen Watts, Robert Tear, Benjamin Luxon and John Shirley-Quirk, as well as several admirable younger singers). But the new version gives a complete and straightforward account of the work, in tune with styles of Handel performance favoured today. Except in one particular: most conductors of period-instrument groups tend to favour faster tempos than those Harry Christophers generally chooses. This is a decidedly leisurely reading of the work; clearly Christophers has a sense of its magnitude, of the big issues with which it is involved and the nobility of its utterance, and he will not let himself be hurried. I think there are times, especially in the final act, where quicker tempos would have been helpful towards the maintenance of the oratorio’s momentum. Similarly, I wish that he had moved a shade more swiftly during the recitatives, and – or this may be the editors – from one number to the next, simply to sustain the dramatic impetus more strongly. I suspect, however, that Christophers is probably less concerned with the drama of the work than with its religious and philosophical aspects, and of course with presenting a direct and faithful realization of it: a perfectly legitimate approach and one that I am sure many will applaud.

He has an excellent cast. Thomas Randle is well equipped for Samson, a firm, strong tenor, with a hint of baritonal quality in his middle and lower registers. There is no bombast here. “Total eclipse” has much of pathos but no heroics. “Why does the God of Israel sleep” is done with some power, and the renunciation of Dalila (“Your charms to ruin”) is weightily sung; and there is plenty of fire in his rejection of the Philistine braggart Harapha but never at the cost of musical singing. It is not strongly characterized: an estimable performance but one that does not quite catch you by the throat. Samson’s father Manoah is sung with characteristic warmth and depth of tone and feeling by Michael George: listen for example to his “Thy glorious deeds” in Act 1. His bass contrasts aptly with the tauter, more focused one of Jonathan Best’s Harapha. Mark Padmore contributes some well-placed singing as both the Israelite and the Philistine man. Lynne Dawson does the same as the woman from both camps (and also the Virgin, echoing Dalila in one appealing number); she contributes a vigorous “Let the bright seraphim” (which here has a brief choral section at the end, surviving in Handel’s manuscript but probably never heard before). I enjoyed Lynda Russell’s soft, seductive Dalila, a modest role, confined to Act 2; but perhaps above all Catherine Wyn-Rogers excels as Micah, with beautifully intense singing and concentrated tone in all her music – her phrasing in “Then long eternity” and the heartfelt expression in “Return O God of hosts”, for example, are quite outstanding. Stylistically the performance is cautious, with only modest added ornamentation and brief cadenzas, but of course the requisite appoggiaturas in the recitative: if an error, it’s certainly in the right direction.

The Sixteen provide clear and spirited choral singing throughout, suitably jolly in the Philistine music, duly noble in that for the Hebrews. I was struck by the unusual clarity of texture in the choruses, attributable both to Christophers’s direction and insistence on firm tone and incisive articulation and to the work of the engineers. Altogether a welcome issue.'

Stanley Sadie, Gramophone [8/1997] Reviewing Collins Classics 7038
Works on This Recording
1. Samson, HWV 57 by George Frideric Handel
Performer: Matthew Vine (Tenor), Thomas Randle (Tenor), Mark Padmore (Tenor), Michael [bass] George (Bass), Jonathan Best (Bass), Lynne Dawson (Soprano), Lynda Russell (Soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Alto)
Period: Baroque
Written: by 1743 ; London, England
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