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George Frederick HANDEL (1685-1759)
Solomon - oratorio in three acts HWV67 (1748)
Tim Mead (alto) – Solomon
Dominique Labelle (soprano) – Solomon’s Queen, First Harlot
Claron McFaddon (soprano) – Queen of Sheba, Second Harlot
Michael Slattery (tenor) – Zadok
William Kendall (tenor) – Attendant
Roderick Williams (bass) – Levite
Winchester Cathedral Choir
Göttingen Festival Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan
rec. live, Frauenkirche, Dresden, 26 May 2007
Text and German translation included
CARUS 83.242 [3 CDs: 60:20 + 49:15 + 47:04]
Experience Classicsonline

This is one of two new recordings of Solomon to have been released recently, the other being on Harmonia Mundi in a performance directed by Daniel Reuss. Hitherto catalogue leaders in the field have been the 1984 Gardiner on Philips [412 612-2] which, like the current Reuss, has some cuts and the much later 1998 McCreesh on Archiv [459 688-2] which doesn’t. Will this McGegan fit the bill? 

Well, his version is complete and he sticks to Handel’s ordering of choruses and arias - not everyone does. And he was recorded live in the Frauenkirche, Dresden where Carus has so successfully recorded before. The use of an all-male choir is good – Handel used one – and he has some unusually forceful basses in the Winchester Cathedral Choir; which is another plus as far as I’m concerned.  The modest-sized Göttingen Festival Orchestra responds adeptly to his direction and there are some notable orchestral flourishes and touches throughout. Listen for example to the lower strings throbbing at the words “resound your Maker’s name” in the Priests’ Chorus With pious hearts – excellent and exciting. But in the end much falls on the singers and this is where quite a lot falls down. 

Let’s start with someone of whom that cannot be said, Roderick Williams. Here is a Levite firm of voice, clear of diction, and strong of characterization. His every appearance gave me pleasure. Try him in Act II’s Thrice bless’d for instance – secure, commanding.  The two Queens (and Harlots) are good, though not outstanding. Dominique Labelle starts a little nervously but soon gets into her stride. I’m not taken by her cadential passage in Bless’d the day but she’s otherwise a fine team player. Claron McFaddon sings Will the sun splendidly – it’s one of the most beautiful arias in the work and she does it justice. Together she and Labelle are pushed too hard and fast in their duet Welcome as the Dawn of day, McGegan succumbing to the modern manner of hard-driving the duet as if it were a flock of recalcitrant sheep. 

Tenor Michael Slattery suffers from a surfeit of self-regard alas. He rolls his “r” with almost comic relish and constantly subjects Almighty pow’r and other recitatives and arias to a degree of assault and battery. This contrasts with the stillness and gravity of Williams to an almost embarrassing degree. To add insult his divisions in Sacred rapture are approximate – one can hear him audibly grab for the safety of the legato passage after the taxing time he’s had. As Solomon we have countertenor Tim Mead. His voice is a little reminiscent of James Bowman’s though he lacks the latter’s fluidity. It’s not a “free” sounding voice and it lacks colour and vibrance; thus that most beautiful of arias What though I trace goes for little. Hs duet with Labelle, in which amorous joys are in the offing, sounds rather like a boy scout going off to put up a tent for all the sexiness he puts into it. 

So, no, this latest entrant doesn’t really alter the balance of power in the discography stakes; McCreesh for a first class complete edition; Gardiner for a cut version; Beecham (Somm – rearranged by the Bart) for historical bravado.

Jonathan Woolf 

see also Review by John Sheppard



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