It was only weeks ago that I reviewed a Solomon with similar
forces, also recorded live by Naxos in Germany (see review). In
both cases the orchestras play period instruments and strive
for historically authentic performances. I feel that the
Hannoversche Hofkapelle is even more authentic in that it
seems that they produce a smaller, thinner sound but this
may also be due to the recording, which was made in the Maulbronn
Monastery, founded by Cistercian monks in 1147, which is
the only completely preserved mediaeval complex north of
the Alps. It is today on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. Sonically
the venue is well suited to the music with a warm but not
very reverberant acoustic. Comparing the two versions is,
as so often, a matter of swings and roundabouts; in general
it seems that Jürgen Budday opts for more contrast in dynamics
and speeds. The choruses as well as the orchestral sinfonia
that opens act three (The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba)
have more ebb and flow than Martini’s more literal reading
on the Naxos. Budday also separates his singers into two
distinct groups, which pays dividends especially in the greatest
chorus, Praise the Lord (CD2 tr. 20). In some of the
more solemn numbers he can drag a bit.
In two respects the recordings differ. Firstly Martini performs
the oratorio absolutely complete while Budday cuts several arias
and also makes some cuts within arias. When reviewing Martini
I made some comparisons with Gardiner’s Philips recording,
which also makes similar cuts, though not necessarily the
same ones. Gardiner claims that all that Handel wrote was
not gold and that there is no sacrilege in trimming. There
are indeed a small number of arias that are fairly empty
and mainly serve as vehicles for expert florid singing. On
the other hand a completely complete recording allows the
listener to make his/her own excisions. To be honest though
I was fully satisfied with Budday’s decisions.
The second difference relates to the casting of Solomon himself. Both
Gardiner and Martini have mezzos singing the part of the
king and, strange as it may seem, this is what Handel prescribed.
Signora Caterina Galli was the first Solomon on 17 March
1749. A mezzo can deliver more authority to the role. As
well as Michael Chance sings he seems pale by the side of
the fruitier Ewa Wolak for Martini. Still he can certainly
muster considerable power and intensity, as in the dramatic
recitative What says the other (CD2 tr.1), where he
and Laurie Reviol dig into the text with operatic vehemence.
At the first performance Signora Giulia Frasi sang Solomon’s
Queen as well as both the Queen of Sheba and First Harlot.
performances, as the two versions discussed here, it is still
common practice to double some parts. Gardiner in his studio
recording used different singers for each part, something
that of course creates greater variety.
Of the soloists here Michael Chance is a well-known quantity
and acquits himself on the whole well, even though his lowest
is a little weak. Nancy Argenta at the beginning of her illustrious
career in both opera, oratorio and lieder, was Solomon’s
Queen also on Gardiner’s recording, more than twenty years
ago. Her voice has spread a little but the tone is still
fresh and bright and her singing is stylish. She also doubles
as the First Harlot and sings movingly in the aria Can
I see my infant gor’d (CD2 tr. 3). Laurie Reviol, Canadian
like Ms Argenta, was a new name to me – and a pleasant surprise.
She has a strong, incisive voice with true dramatic potential.
The bio tells me that she is also a passionate jazz singer!
Thrilling indeed, and that is exactly what her singing is.
The Queen of Sheba’s second aria, Will the sun forget
to streak (CD2 tr. 21) is something to return to. I hope
to be hearing more from this fascinating singer in the future.
Julian Podger is sure-footed in florid singing and takes
good care of the opportunities in Zadok’s arias. Knut Schoch
on the Martini recording is however even more elegant and
fresher of tone. The two basses are about equals with Steffen
Balbach (for Budday) somewhat darker and heavier.
A matter of swings and roundabouts. I still have a weakness
for the Martini, while my colleague Glyn Pursglove was less
and I advise readers to study his review too. Where the Martini
scores is in the completeness and the authentic use of a
mezzo-soprano, while Budday undoubtedly has more ebb and
flow in the choral singing and the orchestra – to my ears
a more romantic view.
As for the presentation I have once again to vent one of
my hang-ups: Why do record companies persist in printing
important information – as
here – in yellow against a blue background? Every authority
on legibility knows that this is sheer folly. There are also
no timings of the individual numbers, neither is there a
libretto (available from the K&K
website). Naxos are better
here, though the libretto has to be downloaded also.
The safest recommendation is, possibly, Gardiner, or Paul
McCreesh whom I haven’t heard, but he has had generally good press.
He also employs a counter-tenor and his set costs about three
times as much as the Naxos. This Budday version can be bought
at £16.93 from Amazon but the list price is considerably
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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