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George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Ewa Wolak (mezzo) – Solomon
Elizabeth Scholl (soprano) – Pharoah’s Daughter, Queen/Second Woman
Nicola Wemyss (soprano) – Nicaule, Queen of Sheba/First Woman
Knut Schoch (tenor) – Zadok/Attendant
Matthias Vieweg (bass) – Levite
Junge Kantorei
Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra/Joachim Carlos Martini
rec. live, Kloster Eberbach, Rheingau, Germany, 30 May 2004
NAXOS 8.557574-5 [81:06 + 79:01]

There are too many things wrong with this live recording for any kind of meaningful recommendation. The choral sound is mushy and indistinct and the spatial separation between the choir and the orchestra seems to have been magnified by the recording process – the location clearly didn’t help either. Martini, whose extensive series of recordings has done some valuable work, here seems hidebound and unable to inject rhythmic buoyancy into the proceedings. His soloists are very variable as well, and the orchestra sounds uninspired by the goings-on.

Of the singers, bass Matthias Vieweg seems occasionally taxed by the demands of Praise ye the Lord. Kurt Schoch has a light and well-focused tenor though he suffers some breath control problems in Sacred raptures. Elisabeth Scholl makes a reasonable show; her Queen’s aria Bless’d the Day is quite attractively done. Nicola Wemyss, the Queen of Sheba, understands what she’s singing about more than most. She colours the text intelligently in Part III’s Ev’ry sight these eyes behold. In fact she’s the only singer to whom the words seem to mean much and the fact that she’s Scottish is one of the reasons why.

I’ve saved the title role for last. Ewa Wolak has a remarkable voice. Her operatic mezzo, coffee dark and big of vibrato, is intrinsically most exciting and in some ways beautiful. But here, at least, she suffers so many technical problems that it’s difficult to assess her objectively. She’s hooty, with an unsupported lower part of the voice (causing it to go flat all too often) and an indistinct sense of pitch. She also attacks under the note, swooping up – a trait that has to stop. But in some ways hers is a most unusual voice; it put me in mind of David Daniels with a very heavy cold. It has a masculine ring but a shortage of colour. Still, like Eva Podleš, another idiosyncratic Polish Handelian, I’m going to keep my ears open for Wolak.

But apart from these somewhat constrained virtues this set is a big disappointment. Choruses are limp – Praise the Lord goes slack very early – and the direction sometimes annoying. The accompaniment to the beautiful duet Welcome as the dawn of day constantly distracts the ear with its fatuous fussiness. On the plus side the text hasn’t been hacked about la Beecham – but God, for an ounce of the Bart’s passion. McCreesh is the front-runner, textually and musically, but my admiration for the Gardiner, a favourite recording of mine, is still strong.

Jonathan Woolf

see also Reviews by Göran Forsling and Glyn Pursglove


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