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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
The People Shall Hear!
Great Handel Choruses
Israel in Egypt, HWV 54
1. The People Shall Hear [6:17]
Alexanderís Feast, HWV 75
2. The Many Rend the Skies [4:11]
LíAllegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, HWV 55
3. Or Let the Merry Bells Ring Round [3:43]
4. Zadok the Priest, HWV 258 [5:07]
Samson, HWV 57
5. Hear Jacobís God [3:13]
6. Air (soprano). Let the Bright Seraphim Ö [3:10]
7. Chorus. Let Their Celestial Concerts All Unite [2:47]
Belshazzar, HWV 61
8. Recall, O King, Thy Rash Command [3:01]
Athalia, HWV 52
9. The Mighty Powír [5:24]
Hercules, HWV 60
10. Jealousy, Infernal Pest [5:19]
Joshua, HWV 64
11. See the Conquering Hero Comes [2:44]
Judas Maccabaeus, HWV 63
12. Fallín Is the Foe [3:03]
Solomon, HWV 67
13. May no Rash Intruder [3:19]
Theodora, HWV 68
14. He Saw the Lovely Youth [3:57]
Messiah, HWV 56
15. Hallelujah [3:30]
Carolyn Sampson (soprano) (3, 6); Robin Blaze (counter-tenor) (9)
The Bach Choir; The English Concert/David Hill
rec. May 2008, St Johnís, Smith Square, London, England
Sung texts enclosed
BIS-SACD-1736 [61:02]


Experience Classicsonline

Choral discs presenting detached choruses from a number of large-scale works by a particular composer are not too common. I recall a Teldec disc with Handel choruses conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt some fifteen, maybe more, years ago but that was compiled from the vast output of Handelís oratorios and the odd opera that Harnoncourt had recorded through the years and it involved several different choirs. This new BIS disc was recorded a year ago specifically to be issued during Handel Year (2009). With the illustrious Bach Choir and The English Concert expectations were high. They were fulfilled.

If there is a thought behind the programming it eludes me and evidently it eluded someone at BIS too. The programme notes by David Vickers, very thorough and informative, are presented in strictly chronological order, beginning with Zadok the Priest, composed for the coronation of King George II and Queen Caroline at Westminster Abbey on 11 October 1727 and ends with Theodora (1750). The order of items has no connection with the notes and it is always frustrating to have to browse through the notes to find the next item. The best thing to do is to programme the CD player in the same order as the notes. It takes some time but it pays dividends in the end from a pedagogical point of view by being able to follow the development of Handelís composition across twenty-three years. The existing order may of course give more variety.

It may seem unfair to begin the review on such a negative note but on the other hand it is almost the only negative comments I have on this issue. The acoustics of St. Johnís, Smith Square, which I know well after so many BBC Lunchtime Concerts there during the 1980s and 1990s, are well suited to choral music and the recording is as natural as most BIS issues tend to be. Recorded in Surround Sound 5.0 (with no separate bass channel added) the sound-picture is warm but also detailed.

The two soloists may seem slightly backwardly balanced but this probably has to do with their relatively small voices and that this was the real balance at St Johnís. Carolyn Sampsonís light, effortlessly produced soprano carries well anyway and she sings the famous Let the bright Seraphim with accomplishment. The brilliant trumpet soloist should also have been named in the booklet. Robin Blaze sounds a little pale when coming in after the spectacular full orchestral forces and eight-part choir in the Athalia chorus.

I need not go into details on every chorus but The people shall hear, with its staccato accompaniment and threatening outpouring from the choir makes for an imposing opening. Zadok the Priest has vitality and rhythmic spring and Jealousy, infernal pest from Hercules is eerie, sounding very Ďmoderní. See the conquering hero comes was originally written for Joshua but later inserted into a revival of Judas Maccabaeus. It is also good to have the lament He saw the lovely youth from Theodora since this was Handelís own favourite among his own music. It may not be as immediately catchy as the Hallelujah from Messiah, but it is certainly a great piece of music.

David Hill carries on the tradition from his predecessors as conductor of the Bach Choir excellently and the English Concert play with ardour. Anyone wanting a cross-section of some of Handelís best choral music need look no further.

GŲran Forsling



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