Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Some items
to consider

new MWI
Current reviews

old MWI
pre-2023 reviews

paid for

Acte Prealable Polish recordings

Forgotten Recordings
Forgotten Recordings
All Forgotten Records Reviews

Troubadisc Weinberg- TROCD01450

All Troubadisc reviews

FOGHORN Classics

Brahms String Quartets

All Foghorn Reviews

All HDTT reviews

Songs to Harp from
the Old and New World

all Nimbus reviews

all tudor reviews

Follow us on Twitter

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Contributing Editor
Ralph Moore
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger

alternatively Crotchet AmazonUK AmazonUS


Johann Gottlieb NAUMANN (1741-1801)
Betulia Liberata - oratorio in two parts (1796)
Nele Gramß, Salomé Haller (sopranos); Hans Jörg Mammel, Markus Schäfer (tenors); Harry van der Kamp (bass); Rheinische Kantorei, Das Kleine Konzert/Hermann Max
rec. April 2004, Studio Stolbergstrasse, Cologne, Germany. DDD
CPO 777 063-2 [47:21 + 48:10]
Experience Classicsonline

‘Betulia Liberata’ is a well-known libretto by the most prominent poet and librettist of the 18th century, Pietro Metastasio. It is based on the book of Judith, from the Apocrypha of the Bible. The subject was used by many composers during the 17th and 18th centuries. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1771) and Johann Gottlieb Naumann (1796) are only two of many composers of the 18th century who used Metastasio's libretto.

Naumann was the dominant musical personality in Dresden between Johann Adolf Hasse (1699–1783) and Carl Maria von Weber (1786–1826). Here he also received his first musical education at the Kreuzschule. As a teenager he travelled to Italy to broaden his horizons. There he met, among others, Giuseppe Tartini and 'Padre' Giovanni Battista Martini. After his return to Dresden he became chamber and church composer in 1765 and Kapellmeister in 1776. Ten years later he was appointed Oberkapellmeister, a clear sign of great appreciation by Prince Elector Friedrich August III. It was therefore no surprise that the Prince Elector himself asked Naumann to write an oratorio for Lenten season in 1796. Naumann, being in poor health, refused. As a result the oratorio for that year was written by Joseph Schuster (1748–1812), Saxon court music director since 1787. Naumann nevertheless started to work on the oratorio, which was completed shortly before Pentecost. It was therefore not performed, but was kept by the Prince Elector.

Nine years later, four years after Naumann's death, the oratorio was finally given its first performance. The reasons for this were twofold: Naumann was still held in high esteem years after his death, and the subject of the oratorio was very appropriate in regard to the political situation. The Electorate of Saxony was under constant threat from France, and in 1806 its resistance finally broke down. 'Betulia Liberata' is about the city of Betulia in Israel which is beleaguered by the Assyrians. Its situation is becoming more precarious by the day, and the inhabitants begin to consider surrender. But then one of them, Judith, announces that she has a plan to liberate the city. She leaves Betulia and visits Holofernes, the captain of the Assyrians. She has dinner with him, and when he is drunk she kills him with his own sword and takes his head with her to show it to the people. It is the beginning of the end of the siege of the city. Metastasio had no political situation in mind while writing the libretto, and many composers in the 18th century had used it without any political motive either, but in this case it is hard not to connect the oratorio's subject with then current affairs. The same subject had been used by Vivaldi (Judita triumphans) in 1716, when Venice was threatened by the Turks.

Considering the change in taste during the last quarter of the 18th century it may be surprising that Naumann used this libretto, as Metastasio is mainly associated with a time in which musical life was dominated by royal and aristocratic courts. Dresden was one of those places where not that much had changed: as late as 1821 another oratorio on a libretto by Metastasio was performed. Naumann pays tribute to the changing taste of the time, though: not only is the libretto abridged – he omitted several arias which are included in, for instance, Mozart's setting. He also made cuts in the recitatives and breaks with the pattern of an endless sequence of (secco) recitatives and arias by creating larger scenes in which recitatives grade into an aria or vice versa. Some recitatives are interrupted by choruses, and there are a couple of arias for solo and chorus. Almost all the recitatives are 'accompagnato' where the voice is supported by the orchestra. Only in some passages where no action is involved – for example the dispute about religious matters between Ozias and Achior – does Naumann make use of the secco recitative.

One could argue that this oratorio is not really dramatic. For instance there is no direct confrontation between Judith and Holofernes: the latter doesn't even appear in the oratorio - as in Vivaldi's oratorio mentioned above. What has happened is told by Judith, and is therefore considerably more static. The most dramatic part is at the start, when Ozias, the governor of Betulia, is accused of inaction by the noblewoman Amital, who pleads for surrender. It is the way the different protagonists deal with this situation which is the main attraction of this oratorio.

The performance doesn't make the mistake of trying to make this work more dramatic than it is. Ozias is sung by Markus Schäfer, who is not to everyone's liking judging by the reviews of some of his recordings, probably because his voice is a bit sharp. But I mostly like his performances, because he articulates very well and differentiates very convincingly in the realisation of his part here. Salomé Haller gives a good portrayal of his critic, Amital, who is a bit of a spitfire. Judith is quite different: quiet and unflappable, with a great trust in God. Nele Gramß gives a fine account of her role. Her report of her actions after her return into the city could probably have been a little more declamatory. Harry van der Kamp (Achior) is especially impressive in this respect, when he reports how he has been left by Holofernes, and in his dispute with Ozias. Hans Jörg Mammel has a rather small role as Carmi, a leader of the people, which he realises well. The Rheinische Kantorei is perhaps a bit small with just sixteen voices, but they sing the choruses very well. After all, they are one of the finest choirs in the early music scene. And the orchestra, almost always in action during this oratorio, validates its reputation by giving powerful and colourful performances of the orchestral part.

With this recording Hermann Max continues his exploration of the German oratorio of the 18th and early 19th centuries. This has resulted in a series of fine recordings, like the one reviewed here. I hope he has the opportunity to continue. It is to be hoped that this will result in recordings of some of the other eleven oratorios by Naumann, who was an interesting and very fine composer, as Betulia Liberata testifies.

Johan van Veen



Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical
All Naxos reviews

Chandos recordings
All Chandos reviews

Hyperion recordings
All Hyperion reviews

Foghorn recordings
All Foghorn reviews

Troubadisc recordings
All Troubadisc reviews

all cpo reviews

Divine Art recordings
Click to see New Releases
Get 10% off using code musicweb10
All Divine Art reviews

All APR reviews

Lyrita recordings
All Lyrita Reviews


Wyastone New Releases
Obtain 10% discount




Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews


      Composer surveys
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site


Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure



Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Pat and present

Helpers invited!

How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips

Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Other links
Web News sites etc

A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools

Return to Review Index

Untitled Document

Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.