|Founder: Len Mullenger||
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett
Georg Friedrich HAENDEL (1685-1759)
|Once again, Brilliant Classics gives us one of its
box sets, which, at a super-budget price, combines excellent recordings
with mediocre discs. While one can never expect such a set to be perfect
all around - and even sets like this that are not at budget prices
have their lemons - this set is certainly worth its low price. Combining
a diverse set of Handelís music - including some of his operas and oratorios,
his famous Water Music and Coronation Anthems, with some lesser known music,
such as his chamber music, this set covers a good deal of Handelís output.
(One can regret that none of his harpsichord music is present in this set.)
As mentioned above, the quality is variable. Belsazar is sung in German, which pretty much rules out any serious appraisal of the work, but many of the other vocal works are good to excellent. Several fairly old recordings directed by Johannes Somary are included here. While they are dated, they have certain qualities that make them worth discovering.
Judas Maccabeus, to mention just one of the Somary recordings, 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 Somaryís 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 sections, and, again, the choir shows its age, but those who like this kind of punch singing will be delighted.
The other Somary recordings deserve roughly the same commentary. But, while this type of performance may sound dated, some of the soloists are excellent and these sets should not be neglected.
An attractive disc is Arleen Augérís recording of Handelís German Arias. Recorded in 1980, at Augérís best, this disc features some beautiful arias sung magnificently by one of the finest sopranos of her time. Unfortunately, the accompaniment is a bit unstable - while the performers are playing some period instruments, the violin sounds too "modern" and is much too present.
The Organ Concertos sound a bit dated, with a strange sounding chamber orchestra, though organist Ivan Sokol is quite good. The sound is a bit annoying, though, with the orchestra being much too present and overwhelming the organ when they play together. That said, Handelís organ concertos are brilliant works that deserve to be discovered.
The Italian Cantatas are an interesting set of small-scale works which were probably composed for private performances for aristocrats in Rome, and the virtuoso requirements of some of the arias show that Handel had a very good singer at hand to perform them. Soprano Maria Zadori is good, but overuses vibrato, giving a more Verdian interpretation of these works. But the accompaniment is excellent, especially the violin in the cantata Delirio Amoroso, one of Handelís finest vocal works.
The high point of this set, for me, is the last six discs, containing Handelís chamber music. Performed by LíEcole díOrphée, a group of excellent period performers (including John Holloway on violin, Philip Pickett on recorder, Susan Sheppard on cello, Lucy Carolan on harpsichord, and many other excellent musicians). These six discs are chock full of excellent works performed wonderfully - trio sonatas, recorder, flute, violin and oboe sonatas. In fact, they stand out from all the other discs in this set by being true period performances.
This set has all the good and bad points of any such
set - some fine recordings by spirited musicians (such as the chamber
music, or Arleen Augérís recordings of the German Arias) and some
that are best forgotten (Belshazar sung in German, to mention just one).
But, at this super-budget price, even a Handel connoisseur will find many
discs which make it worth his or her while.
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