George Frederic HANDEL
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
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 ŕ 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.
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