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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Handel: Gold
CD 1 [68:25]
1. Let the Bright Seraphim (Samson) [5:55]
Kiri Te Kanawa (soprano), Crispian Steele-Perkins (trumpet), English Chamber Orchestra/Barry Rose
2. Lascia la spina (Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno) [5:53]
Cecilia Bartoli (mezzo-soprano), Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski
3. Frondi tenere … Ombra mai fu (Serse) [3:46]
Plácido Domingo (tenor), Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi/Marcello Viotti
4. Tornami a vagheggiar (Alcina) [4:12]
Joan Sutherland (soprano), London Symphony Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
5. Dopo notte, atra e funesta (Ariodante) [6:47]
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski
6. Care selve, ombre beate (Atalanta) [3:19]
Luciano Pavarotti (tenor), Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna/Richard Bonynge
7. V’adoro, pupille (Giulio Cesare) [4:53]
Renée Fleming (soprano), Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Harry Bicket
8. Ciel e terra armi di sdegno (Tamerlano) [3:14]
Rolando Villazón (tenor), Gabrieli Players/Paul McCreesh
9. Ma che vuoi piů da me (Il Floridante) [4:28]
Joyce DiDonato (contralto), Il Complesso Barocco/Alan Curtis
10. Ah, dolce nome (Muzio Scevola) [8:29]
Russell Oberlin (counter-tenor), Albert Fuller (harpsichord), The Baroque Chamber Orchestra/Thomas Dunn
11. Waft her, Angels, Through the Skies (Jephtha) [4:31]
Nigel Robson (tenor), English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
12. He was Despised (Messiah) [6:43]
Kathleen Ferrier (contralto), London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Adrian Boult
13. Zadok the Priest [5:17]
Choir of Westminster Abbey, The English Concert, Trevor Pinnock (organ)/Simon Preston
CD 2 [74:13]
1. Wher’er you Walk (Semele) [4:34]
Bryn Terfel (bass-baritone), Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras
2. Where Shall I Fly! (Hercules) [6:38]
Janet Baker (mezzo-soprano), English Chamber Orchestra/Raymond Leppard
3. Oh! Had I Jubal’s Lyre (Joshua) [2:28]
Magdalena Kožená (mezzo-soprano), Venice Baroque Orchestra/Andrea Marcon
4. See the Conqu’ring Hero Comes! (Judas Maccabaeus) [2:14]
Academy & Chorus of St Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner
5. Father of Heav’n! From Thy Eternal Throne (Judas Maccabaeus) [6:40]
Grace Bumbry (mezzo-soprano), The Utah Symphony/Maurice Abravanel
6. Almighty Pow’r! Who rul’st the Earth and Skies (Solomon) [3:20]
Andreas Scholl (countertenor), Gabrieli Players/Paul McCreesh
7. Myself I Shall Adore (Semele) [7:30]
Danielle de Niese (soprano), Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
8. The People that Walked in Darkness (Messiah) [3:57]
John Tomlinson (bass), The English Concert Choir, The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock
9. Piangerň la sorte mia (Giulio Cesare) [5:50]
Teresa Berganza (mezzo), Orchestra of the Royal Opera House Covent Garden/Alexander Gibson
10. Verdi prati (Alcina) [4:12]
Fritz Wunderlich (tenor), Cappella Coloniensis/Ferdinand Leitner
11. Hence, Iris, Hence Away (Semele) [3:40]
Marilyn Horne (mezzo-soprano), New Symphony Orchestra/Richard Bonynge
12. Angels, Ever Bright and Fair (Theodora) [3:37]
Susan Gritton (soprano), Gabrieli Players/Paul McCreesh
13. I Know that My Redeemer Liveth (Messiah) [5:23]
Sylvia McNair (soprano), Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Sir Neville Marriner
14. Behold, I Tell You a Mystery … The Trumpet Shall Sound (Messiah) [9:08]
Thomas Quasthoff (bass-baritone), Staatskapelle Dresden/Sebastian Weigle
15. Hallelujah Chorus (Messiah) [3:58]
The English Concert Choir, The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock
rec. 1953-2008
DECCA 4781460 [68:25 + 74:13]


Experience Classicsonline

Just a couple of weeks ago I had a similar double CD with Handel’s vocal music for review. It was issued by Virgin and the material was culled from complete recordings and recitals in the Virgin and EMI vaults. This Decca issue draws on the back catalogues of Deutsche Grammophon, Decca and Philips and a couple of further sources. The biggest difference is that the Virgin set also included a number of duets. Decca on the other hand offer a couple of choruses. In both compilations it is the arias that dominate. Stylistically the Virgin set has a greater dominance of period performances. The Decca is not far behind however but include some truly old-fashioned – but classical – readings. The choice of items is good with a predominance of arias that most listeners will recognise, maybe even sing along with; nothing wrong with that. The important thing is that the general standard is high and even though there is a higher percentage of non-baroque specialists among the singers here, they do a really good job.

Kiri Te Kanawa in creamy voice and Crispian Steele-Perkins on superb form open with Let the bright seraphim from Samson, in effect one of most magnificent duets in all Handel. Lascia la spina from the Italian oratorio Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno will be familiar from Handel’s first opera for London, Rinaldo, as Lascia ch’io pianga, which came a few years later, but the aria seems to hark back to a saraband from Almira. Cecilia Bartoli’s reading is beautifully inward and expressive. Domingo’s Ombra mai fu, recorded in the early 2000s, is fine and Joan Sutherland’s aria from Alcina doesn’t enunciate many of the words audibly but her trill and runs are astonishing - as always. Anne Sofie von Otter’s Dopo notte is one of the highlights, bouncy and forward moving and with the utmost fluency. No one expects Pavarotti to be a baroque stylist but though largely un-Handelian Cara selve has moments of sensitivity – and the voice in 1973 was still unscratched.

Renée Fleming’s creamy tones are almost on a par with Kiri Te Kanawa’s and Rolando Villazon, whose Handel recital I recently reviewed, gives a riveting, vital reading of the aria from Tamerlano. Joyce DiDonato is the contralto of the day and she is magnificent. Russell Oberlin in the long Ah, dolce nome, recorded as long ago as 1959, sports a warm rounded countertenor with beautiful vibrato, a far cry from the whitish sounds of Alfred Deller and the few other singers of the day. Nigel Robson opens his aria from Jephtha with almost countertenor sounds too but then establishes his quite personal, restrained but expressive tenor voice. Kathleen Ferrier’s He was despised is grand – but moving and Simon Preston inspires his Westminster Abbey forces to a punchy – and springy – Zadok the Priest.

CD 2 opens with Bryn Terfel singing Where’er you walk so softly and scaled down that he challenges even John McCormack, and Janet Baker is unsurpassed in her combination of powerful intensity and warmth in Where shall I fly. The contrast in voice characteristics between her and Magdalena Kozena is instructive, set one after the other as here. Kozena’s much lighter voice hardly touches the ground in her flight with Jubal’s lyre. Neville Marriner avoids the old-fashioned pomposity that mar some old readings of the Judas Maccabaeus chorus. This is followed by an aria from the same work, sung by Grace Bumbry in what must be one of her earliest recordings. It was published in 1959, when she was 22 and before she had even made her operatic debut. She was a surprisingly mature singer even then. Andreas Scholl’s clarion tones gild his aria from Solomon and the sparkling Danielle de Niese is delightful in the long aria from Semele. 

John Tomlinson, before he took on Wotan in Bayreuth, is weighty but flexible in the aria from Messiah and it is a pleasure to hear the young Teresa Berganza in soprano repertoire. Fritz Wunderlich’s Verdi prati from Alcina reminds us of that he was the possessor of one of the most beautiful tenor voices in recorded history. Unique was also Marilyn Horne with her enormous voice range and sure-fire technique. Both Susan Gritton and Sylvia McNair deliver sensitive lyrical readings of their arias, whereas Thomas Quasthoff, who normally is just as sensitive, primarily has to be jubilant in The trumpet shall sound. This is, just as much as Let the bright seraphim, a duet for voice and trumpet, and the trumpet player should naturally be credited, which he isn’t. Since I reviewed the recital from where the aria is culled, I was able to check in the notes there and his name is Markus Schmutzler.

What better way is there to end a compilation like this than with the Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah? Trevor Pinnock’s reading has all the joy one could wish.

There are no texts and no liner notes, just a plain track-list identifying the participating singers. But this is not really an issue to ponder too much in depth, rather lean back, shut one’s eyes and just enjoy. Those who find the repertoire to their liking can rest assured that the performances are fully worthy of the music.

Göran Forsling


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