Handelís music has always been popular in the UK and
although by the early 19th Century relatively few of his
many oratorios and cantatas and none of the equally numerous Italian
operas retained their popularity as complete entities, individual arias
therefrom were always in demand. Indeed, even before 1800 British musicians
compiled their own oratorios exclusively re-cycling material from various
different Handel works. In 1791 two such, Omnipotence and Redemption,
were advertised in the press and the following year Jehovah selected
from Handel by Dr Miller of Doncaster, was performed in Sheffield. Discs
of individual Handel arias, for whatever type of voice, remain popular
in our own time. I have reviewed a number myself and always with pleasure
as Handelís glorious music has a life-enhancing quality. And this applies
whether the performances consciously try to get back to "originality"
in vocal style and orchestral accompaniment, or whether (as was always
the case in my young day) they were, or are, overlaid with a Romantic
Here is another disc, from Australia, which has been
giving me a lot of enjoyment. A casual glance suggests that it is confined
to all the best known Handel tenor arias ("Ombra Mai Fu" is
however more usually heard sung by an alto), but there are a few lesser
heard items. These include the two contrasting arias from Tamerlano,
by common consent one of Handelís finest Italian operas and Athalia,
represented here by a short but shapely air. Esther, exemplified
by the surpassingly beautiful "Tune Your Harps", with its
enchanting accompaniment of solo oboe and pizzicato strings (no actual
harp(s)!) is rarely heard complete. While "Lascia la Spina",
later famous as Lascia Chíio Pianga in Handelís first opera for London,
Rinaldo (1710), and a tune he reused a number of times, appears
here in its first vocal version, from an Italian cantata of 1707,
itself twice later revised by Handel.
Mr Hobsonís sometimes rather nasal delivery has admirable
incisiveness and clarity, both in line and, particularly so, in diction.
There was scarcely need, at least for the English arias, to print the
words in the booklet which also has an interesting article on the development
of the tenor voice in the 18th Century English concert scene.
Tempi are generally on the quick side, which accords with the present
day stylish Handelian performance. Particularly is this the case with
"Tune Your Harps", "Waft Her Angels" and, most of
all, "Sound An Alarm", where Judas appears to be summoning
his light infantry! This being so, there would have been room for several
more tracks for the greedy Handel enthusiast as the disc is not over-filled
and I can think of more strong candidates, from Acis, Joshua, Jephtha,
Judas Maccabeus and Samson, not to mention Messiah.
Some arias, though not all, have their da capos decorated in
the manner of Handelís period (at one time this was never done), although
by no means was Handel a slave to the da capo aria. In view of
these nods towards "authenticity" it is surprising that the
aria from Tolomeo, the lovely "Silent Worship" is not
performed in its original, but with Arthur Somervellís long-popular
words which have nothing to do with Tolomeo.
Handelians all over the world will, I am sure, delight
in Mr Hobsonís realisation of Handelís greatest (tenor) hits. He is
well supported by the twelve-voice Cantillation which provide the choral
follow-ons to "The Trumpetís Loud Clangour" and "Sound
An Alarm" and by the crisply stylish Sinfonia Australis. Special
mentions here for oboist Linda Walsh for her beautifully phrased contributions
to the Esther and Acis arias and "Su la Sponda"
from Tamerlano. Trumpet player Leanne Sullivan must also be singled
out for her stirring introduction to the St Ceciliaís Day aria.
Cellist Susan Blakeís sustained playing in the Athalia and Atalanta
excerpts is also notable. Despite my slight reservations noted above
I am happy to give the disc the warmest of welcomes.
Philip L Scowcroft