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Georg Friedrich HANDEL (1685-1759)

Justino Diaz, bass
Mark Deller, countertenor
Sheila Armstrong, soprano
Felicity Palmer, soprano
Helen Watts, contralto
Robert Tear, tenor
Edgar Fleet, tenor
Armor Artis Chorale, John McCarthy
Harold Lester, harpsichord and organ
English Chamber Orchestra, Johannes Somary
Rec: 1975 ADD
REGIS RRC2020 [143.46]


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Handelís Semele was composed in June and July 1743 to a text by William Congreve. Originally adapted from Ovidís Metamorphoses for John Eccles, this work was never performed during Ecclesí lifetime. First performed in February 1744, Semele did not have the popularity of many of Handelís other oratorios. Telling the story of the Greek gods and their sexual affairs, was not perhaps appreciated by Handelís public.

This recording, dating from 1975, features many front-rank singers in their prime: Felicity Palmer, Robert Tear, Sheila Armstrong and others. While Somaryís work is certainly sturdy and imaginative, it is dated. Handel is not performed in the same manner today. His choirs are dense, and his orchestra a bit stiff, but the beauty of the music irons out such small details.

The recording is mediocre. It is very flat. All the musicians and singers sound as though they are on the same plane. In addition, the balance between some of the singers, during duets and recitatives, is not very good. This detracts slightly from the overall impression of this recording. Some of the singing is brilliant, leading the listener to almost forget the drawbacks.

Sheila Armstrong is a fine Semele. She shines in her arias, her voice ringing out with clarity and energy. In the final act, she has many memorable moments, especially the long aria in scene three of the third act. At times, however, it is hard to understand what she is singing from overuse of vibrato. This is an operatic voice, not a baroque voice. She uses a great deal of energy, sometimes detracting slightly from the overall musicality of the work.

I regret the lack of any information about the recording. While the liner notes discuss the plot, there is not even a list of the titles of the arias and choruses. There is a track list, but it says nothing more than "aria" or "recitative". Needless to say, there is no libretto either, but thatís par for the course with Regisís budget reissues. It would be nice if they could at least make these texts available on their web site.

This is a very good, though dated recording of one of Handelís less popular oratorios. The fine singers give very good performances, and the music is excellent.

Kirk McElhearn


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