Handel's oratorio Judas Maccabaeus is one of the composer's
most popular oratorios. The story follows Judas Maccabaeus, commander
of the Israelite army and orchestrator of the Maccabean revolt in the
second century B.C. After the death of the Israelite leader, Mattathias,
a new leader is needed, and Judas Maccabaeus answers the call. Judas
triumphs in battle, enemies build up against him and his people. The
third act follows the final triumph for Judas and his people, their
remembrance of those that have been lost while at the same time looking
forward to a future filled with peace and prosperity.
This recording, one of three Handel oratorios so far
released by this label, was recorded live over two performances at the
Maulbronn Monastery in Germany. One of the main attractions of this
recording is the excellent sound of the monastery. The choir is, as
in the other oratorios recorded by this label, one of the high points
of this recording. Its sound is excellent, partly because of the singing,
and partly because of the natural resonance of the venue. Also, in this
oratorio, the choir has many excellent movements to sing. Their sound
is rich and round, full, yet not overpowering. There is an ideal balance
among the voices, and its articulation is excellent.
There are many fine arias on this recording, and the
soloists are almost all excellent. Catherine King has a beautiful voice,
and stands out in the interestingly-titled aria Pious orgies, with a
slow, moving melody, among Handel's finest and most touching. She also
shines in another slow aria, O liberty; Handel shows here just how well
he wrote arias for female singers. Sinéad Pratschke is excellent
as well, and shows her wide range in the aria Come, ever smiling liberty.
The epic aria and chorus Ah, wretched Israel is certainly
the most memorable part of this work. At almost 9 minutes long, this
has the force and emotion of a short cantata. It opens with a slow,
haunting melody played on a single violin, then soprano Sinéad
Pratschke joins in, her voice floating over the violin and other instruments
as they join. Later in the piece, the chorus joins in this poignant,
The male singers are fine as well, yet the high points
of this oratorio are the many slow, profound arias for soprano and mezzo-soprano,
as well as the excellent pieces for choir. Charles Humphries is a fine
alto, though his voice is just a bit harsh at times.
This fine recording has the advantages and disadvantages
of all live recordings - there are some weaknesses in the sound, but
the overall quality outweighs the occasional defaults; on the whole,
the sound in this monastery is excellent. This is an excellent recording
of one of Handel's best and most popular oratorios, and is highly recommended.