> Georg Friedrich Handel [KM]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Georg Friedrich HANDEL (1685-1759)
Judas Maccabaeus
Heather Harper, soprano
Helen Watts, contralto
Alexander Young, tenor
John Shirley-Quirk, bass
Amor Artis Chorale, John McCarthy
Harold Lester, harpsichord and organ
English Chamber Orchestra
Johannes Somary
Recorded 1971.
REGIS RRC 2007 [2 CDs 143.54]


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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 was first released by Vanguard Classics in 1971, and certainly shows its age. From the heavy vibrato-laden strings to the dense choral movements, the tone of the time is present. Nevertheless, in spite of the recent historically informed performance movement, this work, like many of Somary’s recordings of the time, have no lack of emotion. While the approach in this recording is certainly that of a "classical" approach to Handel, there are many reasons why it is still interesting. From the overall vision of the work to the fine soloists, this recording has much to offer.

The four soloists are among the finest of their time, and all give very good performances, though the first thing one notices is the overuse of vibrato. John Shirley-Quirk is an excellent bass, and he sings in the English tradition, giving a wonderful performance. Tenor Alexander Young is also very good, though one can clearly hear the age of this recording in his singing of Tis, well, my friends, with his heavy voice over a tinkling harpsichord. But no matter, this has almost a nostalgic sound, that of Handel as he was performed by an earlier generation. Both of the female soloists are fine as well, though it is a bit strange to hear the "Israelite woman and man" singing a duet with both singers being women - though certainly no stranger than hearing male countertenors sing female roles.

This oratorio has many choral movements, and, again, the choir shows its age, but those who like this kind of punch choral movements will be delighted. While this recording shows a few wrinkles - after all, it is more than 30 years old - it has enough interest to more than justify its bargain price.  

Kirk McElhearn



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