HANDEL (1685-1759) Samson - oratorio in three acts HWV 57 (1742) [167:12]
- Thomas Cooley (tenor)
Dalila, Philistine woman and Israelite woman - Sophie Daneman (soprano)
Micah - Franziska Gottwald (alto)
Manoa - William Berger (bass)
Harapha - Wolf Matthias Friedrich (bass)
Philistine and Israelite - Michael Slattery (tenor)
NDR Choir/Festspiel Orchester Göttingen/Nicholas McGegan
rec. live, Frauenkirche, Dresden, June 2008
[3 CDs: 60:09 + 57:46 + 49:17]
Carus is building a valuable stable of recordings, many taped
in the Frauenkirche in Dresden. For this three CD set the NDR
Choir, Festspiel Orchester Göttingen, a sextet of solo
singers and Nicholas McGegan have been enlisted to render Samson
to the disc-buying public. The result, if I can anticipate
my own critical comments, is an equable and well, but small
scaled, performance. There are no outstanding singers as such;
instead ensemble virtues are promoted in pursuance of a harmonious
and expressively equable reading of the score.
One of the most striking things about the set is the excellent
diction and spirited incision of the NDR Chorus. The relatively
new Festspiel Orchester Göttingen employs period instruments
and, as with almost all bands promoted by Carus that I have
encountered, are a most adept, rhythmically buoyant and sympathetic
one. McGegan directs with style and if one sometimes feels him
a little lacking in brio - I tend to feel the same way about
his compatriot Robert King in this sort of repertoire - then
compensation comes in the shape of his long-term control and
of the rise and fall of the work's emotive high ground.
Recitative is notably well judged, accompanied recitative especially,
where the band points finely, and these are the result of McGegan's
But Samson is about the voice and here we have some matters
to ponder. The singers have been well selected to ensure that
warmth and a certain limited expressive range is harmoniously
maintained - which is not to say there aren't some outbursts,
of which more in a moment. It is all too easy, when this work
is staged or semi-staged, as it has been, to allow Samson's
gravitational pull to splinter ensemble focus. I saw John Vickers's
last performances on a London stage, when he sang Samson, and
though this wasn't quite the case here, it was obvious where
all eyes and ears were directed. In this Carus things are, for
want of a better phrase, democratically apportioned.
Franziska Gottwald is a sonorous but not over inflated Micah
- she sings with equalized tone and requisite plangency, as
well as fine English diction. It's a voice that can take
on a pleasing keen, as in her Act II aria with chorus Return
Oh God of Hosts. Thomas Cooley is Samson; he sings with
pleasing, neatly controlled eloquence but it's rather small-scaled
and arguably a bit neutral, something I felt about his Total
Eclipse! which should be more starkly and incontrovertibly
conveyed. William Berger has a warm, rounded bass and does well
throughout; his recitative control is evident as early as Act
I's Oh miserable change! where the band accompanies
with spirited interjectory drama. His How willing my paternal
love is sensitively graded, modest but not especially expressive.
Sophie Daneman sings a pretty but perhaps subdued Let the
Bright Seraphim but otherwise gives a controlled, pleasing
account. Bass Wolf Matthias Friedrich sports some well nourished
but incongruously employed open American vowels, not least in
Honour and Arms which gets rather a 'windy' reading.
Who sings the Virgin in Act II, to shadow Daneman? I assume
it's a member of the choir but she should be credited, especially
as she's good.
The Raymond Leppard directed modern instrument performance is
still going strong, and with Janet Baker, Helen Watts, Robert
Tear, John Shirley-Quirk and Benjamin Luxon you're assured
of first class singing of a certain stamp [Warner Classics 6
CDs 2564695686 - a box set with Messiah and assorted arias].
Harnoncourt [Teldec 2564692602] has pressing claims as does
the old Richter with Alexander Young et al [Archiv 453 245 2].
Harry Christophers' 1996 recording with Lynne Dawson, Lynda
Russell, Catherine Wyn-Rogers, Mark Padmore, Matthew Vine, Thomas
Randle, Jonathan Best and Michael George is ex-Collins and now
on Coro 16008 and is the major opposition. I prefer the Christophers.
Recorded over two days this is an SACD and sounds a touch reverberant
in the tricky acoustic of the Frauenkirche. There are some
cuts, for example To Song and Dance. Whilst admiring
the overall, equable nature of the performance, the Christophers
gets a more urgent recommendation.
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