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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Georg Friedrich HAENDEL (1685-1759)
Judas Maccabaeus

Sinéad Pratschke, soprano
Catherine King, mezzo-soprano
Charles Humphries, alto
Marc LeBrocq, tenor
Christopher Purves, bass
Maulbronner Kammerchor
Musica Florea Prague, Jürgen Budday
Rec: September 22-23, 2000, Maulbronn Monastery, Germany.
K&K VERLAGSANSTALT ISBN 3-930643-71-5 [154.31]

 

 


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, painful piece.

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.
Kirk McElhearn



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