> VIVALDI, HANDEL Glorias Gardiner 4625972 [KM]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Georg Friederich HÄNDEL (1685 - 1759)
Gloria *
Dixit Dominus

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)

The Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner
* Gillian Keith, Soprano
Rec: November 1998 (Vivaldi Gloria and Handel Dixit Dominus); June 2001 (Handel Gloria), All Hallows Church, Gospel Oak, London
PHILIPS 462 597-2 [78.21]


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There has been a lot of hubris about this "recently discovered" work by Händel, the Gloria in Excelsis Deo (HWV deest; deest being Latin for missing, since this work is not included in the standard catalogue of Händel's works). The manuscript of this work, which was in the library of the Royal Academy of Music in London, was part of a larger manuscript containing arias from Händel's operas. Long known, yet considered to be "dubious", no one had examined the work for a very long time, even though the manuscript of the Gloria bore the name "Händel" underlined twice by a copyist. Professor Hans Joachim Marx, of Hamburg, Germany, shortly after visiting the library in 2000, claimed that Händel indeed wrote the Gloria, and his authentication has been unanimously accepted by Händel scholars and musicologists. "The music is very virtuosic, very expressive and full of effects," Professor Marx said. "I realised its significance immediately."

This is a small-scale work. It was composed for soprano, 2-part violin, and basso continuo, and lasts just over 16 minutes in this recording. (Some initial press reports claimed it was a choral work, but this is not the case.) It seems to have been composed in Händel's early years, either during his last years in Hamburg or his first few years in Italy, 1706 - 1708. This has been determined by melodic and stylistic similarities with other works of the period.

The work is a musically demanding one for the soprano soloist. It is suggested that it might have been written for a castrato, or a very capable soprano. Michael Talbot, Professor of Music at the University of Liverpool, said, "The quality of the work is so high that it will surely join the ranks of Händel's most loved music. It has great melodic distinction. The vocal lines are complex and flowing, yet never degenerate to empty virtuosity. It is a wonderful piece. It's going to make a big splash."

Händel scholar Donald Burrows said: "This is a very exciting piece. There's no doubt of its authenticity, particularly because the musical content includes various melodies and fragments we also know from other contexts of Händel's music."

John Eliot Gardiner was unfortunate to not be able to release the world premiere recording of the Handel Gloria. This was done by Bis in July, with a fine performance by Emma Kirkby as soprano [review]. Given the media attention to this work, there is no way I could avoid comparing the two. Oddly enough, there is little musical difference between the two performances. The tempi are almost exactly the same - the timings are within a few seconds for each movement. The main difference is in the voices of Emma Kirkby and Gillian Keith. Kirkby clearly has this work down pat - she will be the reference singer for this work for many years. Keith just doesn’t have the tone and expressiveness that Kirkby has. She has the agility, especially in the first movement, the Gloria in excelsis Deo. The soprano has a demanding score, and there is a wonderful interplay with a solo violin weaving in and out of her melody. This is the kind of music that might make some hum along, and others tap their feet - this is music that expresses great joy and happiness. But Gillian Keith does not have the same power in her voice as Kirkby does.

The centrepiece of the work is the Qui tollis…, the longest movement of the piece. This version is about 20 seconds longer than the Kirkby recording. But, again, Emma shines much more than Gillian Keith, even though Keith is truly in her element here.

(Note: one can wonder why Gillian Keith, the soloist for this piece, is not mentioned on the CD cover. Her name is mentioned on the back, and in the notes, naturally, but, since the main selling point of this disc is the Handel Gloria, her absence on the cover stands out.)

The remainder of this recording is indeed excellent - an exuberant Gloria by Vivaldi, and a brilliant Dixit Dominus by Handel, with some excellent choral work. If you are looking for the Handel Gloria alone, go for the Bis recording. But this disc has the advantage of offering much more music - almost a half-hour more - with the Vivaldi Gloria. Gillian Keith is not a bad singer, quite the contrary. This recording is excellent, and should delight most listeners.

Kirk McElhearn

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