> Handel - The Choice of Hercules [KM]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Georg Friedrich HAENDEL (1685-1759)
The Choice of Hercules

Pleasure: Susan Gritton, soprano
Virtue: Alice Coote, mezzo-soprano
Hercules: Robin Blaze, counter-tenor
An Attendant on Pleasure: Charles Daniels, tenor
Maurice Greene

Hearken Unto Me, Ye Holy Children

Robin Blaze, counter-tenor
Charles Daniels, tenor
Peter Harvey, bass
The Choir of the King's Consort
The King's Consort/Robert King
Rec: March 2001, St-Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London.
HYPERION CDA67298 [65.32]


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Robert King has recorded many works by Handel with the King’s Consort, and this new recording of the little-known Choice of Hercules is a welcome addition to their discography. This work, one of the few "oratorios" that Handel composed around a non-biblical subjects, was born from an aborted project that he undertook in 1749-50: he was working on a music for a play, by Scottish writer Tobias Smollett, on ‘Alceste’. Rather than being an opera, this was to be in the style of Purcell’s semi-operas. However, after rehearsals began, the author and promoter fell out, cancelling the project, and leaving Handel with a good amount of fine music and nothing to do with it. Since he never wasted such efforts, he reused some of it, and added new numbers, in creating the one-act dramatic cantata The Choice of Hercules. Originally performed as "an additional New Act" after Alexander’s Feast, the work was later inserted between the two sections of this work and called an "interlude".

In any case, we have here a fine small "oratorio", if one can call it that. It does indeed follow the oratorio form, though it is a secular subject, that of Hercules having to choose between Vice and Virtue. At times rousing and energetic, with horns filling out the orchestra, at times more dramatic and emotional, this piece comes as a surprise. Such a compact work, containing all the elements for which Handel’s operas and oratorios are known, is a pure delight. At less than 50 minutes long, this is a brief story, but it seems that Handel’s disappointment at the cancellation of ‘Alceste’ pushed him to do his absolute best with this music.

Hercules appears only a few times in this work, oddly enough, not singing until the 14th of 24 numbers. Robin Blaze, a fine counter-tenor with a rich experience singing Handel, is excellent, his crystalline voice fitting perfectly with the slow, subtle aria Yet, can I hear that dulcet lay. His mastery of vibrato - he uses it judiciously, and only as an ornament, unlike many other counter-tenors - and his pure tone make this aria the high point of the recording. (Blaze should really record more Handel…) The two female soloists Susan Gritton and Alice Coote are also excellent, and tenor Charles Daniels is fine as well.

In addition to the Choice of Hercules, we have a short anthem by Maurice Greene, Hearken unto me, ye holy children. This work is not at the same level as the Handel - the music sounds, at times, like church hymns, but it does feature one excellent moment, the duet Therefore shall he receive a glorious kingdom; Robin Blaze and Charles Daniels blend perfectly in this piece.

As usual with the King’s Consort recordings, the playing of the musicians is tight and balanced, with a fine equilibrium between soloists, chorus and orchestra.

Kirk McElhearn

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