One of the most grown-up review sites around

52,670 reviews
and more.. and still writing ...

Search MusicWeb Here



International mailing

  Founder: Len Mullenger             Editor in Chief: John Quinn               Contact Seen and Heard here  

Some items
to consider

£11 post-free anywhere
(currently suspended)


100th birthday of Mieczyslaw Weinberg on December 8, 2019.
Renate Eggbrecht has recorded all 3 violin Sonatas

Works for Voice by György Kurtág


Best Seller

Cyril Scott piano music

Hahn Complete Songs

Piano Sonatas 6,7,8 Osborne

Symphony for solo piano


Advertising on

Donate and keep us afloat


New Releases

Naxos Classical

Nimbus Podcast

Obtain 10% discount

Special offer 50% off
15CDs £83 incl. postage

Musicweb sells the following labels

Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off

Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
Rob Barnett
Editor in Chief
John Quinn
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
Jonathan Woolf
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger


CD: MDT AmazonUK AmazonUS
BIS Downloads available from

George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759)
Jephtha - oratorio in 3 acts (HWV 70) (1751)
Mona Julsrud – Iphis; Elisabeth Rapp (soprano) - Angel; Elisabeth Jansson – Storgè; Marianne Beate Kielland (mezzo) – Hamor; James Gilchrist (tenor) – Jephtha; HÅvard Stensvold (baritone) - Zebul
Collegium Vocale Gent
Stavanger Symphony Orchestra/Fabio Biondi
rec. live, 7 Feb 2008 with additional sessions 29 August, 1, 8-9 Sept 2008, Stavanger Concert Hall, Norway DDD
BIS-CD-1864 [80:34 + 78:14]

Experience Classicsonline

Jephtha is Handel’s last oratorio. It ended a long stream of compositions in this genre. The reception for his oratorios was mixed: in the late 1740s Judas Maccabaeus, Joshua, Susanna and Solomon were greeted with enthusiasm, but Belshazzar and Theodora were received with indifference. Handel started to compose Jephtha in December 1750. During the compositional process his health deteriorated as a stroke caused blindness of his left eye. This meant that he needed more time than usual to finish the work.

Handel started to compose oratorios when the audiences had had their fill of Italian operas. In his hands the oratorio developed into the sacred counterpart of Italian opera. Most of them are operas in all but name. The main differences are the use of the vernacular, the lack of staging and the prominence of the choir. Although the subjects were sacred and based on biblical stories, the libretti contained many elements which were the product of the librettist’s fantasy. In Jephtha the clergyman Thomas Morell provided the words. He had a perfect sense of the requirements of a musical drama. That inspired him to write a libretto which keeps the thread of the biblical story of Jephtha intact, but builds in a number of elements which are not taken from the Bible. The story is based on Judges 11 which tells of Jephtha leading the Jewish people in the war against the Ammonites. He promises God that if he is victorious, he will sacrifice the first creature he meets on his return. To his horror it is his daughter Iphis who greets him. The desperation of all people involved - with the exception of Iphis herself - is expressed in the second act, ending with the dramatic chorus 'How dark, O Lord, are Thy decrees!' In the third act the sacrifice is prepared, until an angel intervenes. Instead of being sacrificed, Iphis has to devote her entire life to God.

The libretto by Morell is based on the Latin tragedy Jephte sive votum by George Buchanan (1554). In this piece the number of characters was increased. Whereas the biblical story only mentions Jephtha and his daughter, Morell's libretto has roles for his wife (Storgè), his brother (Zebul), his daughter's lover (Hamor) and an angel. Moreover the daughter - who has no name in the Bible - is called Iphis. In the portrayal of the various characters Morell made use of a classical tragedy: Iphigenie in Aulis by Euripides. All the protagonists have an aria in the first act which gives the opportunity to depict their respective characters. The choir in Handel's dramatic oratorios doesn't comment or reflect as a bystander but takes a decisive role. Here it is predominantly the chorus of the Israelites, whereas in act 3 it once assumes the role of the chorus of priests.

It is not common practice these days to perform the great oratorios of the baroque era with modern instruments. If one has the sound of period instruments in one's ear one needs to readjust to appreciate a performance with a modern symphony orchestra. Fabio Biondi has done a great job in translating historical performance practice to the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra. The phrasing and articulation and the treatment of dynamics are quite stylish and the strings largely avoid vibrato. Still, this performance once again shows the limits of modern instruments in the interpretation of baroque music. I often missed depth and colour. Moreover, a baroque-style articulation on modern instruments sounds rather unnatural. It is also inevitable that dynamic contrasts are moderate, as a full exploration of the dynamic capabilities of modern instruments would cause problems to the singers and would violate the character of the music.

The cast is pretty good overall. Mona Julsrud is particularly impressive as Iphis. She explores the contrasting feelings of her character very well. 'Farewell, ye limpid springs' (Act 3) is wonderfully sung. The role of Jephtha is nicely suited to James Gilchrist, who gives a good account of his character's devastation when he realises that he has to sacrifice his daughter. It is just a shame that his incessant vibrato spoils enjoyment. That is also a problem with Elisabeth Jansson as Storgè, for instance in 'Sweet as sight to the blind' (Act 3). She is too restrained in her accompagnato 'First perish thou' (Act 2). Marianne Beate Kielland has by far the most beautiful voice of all the ladies in the cast. She uses it well in her performance of the rather sweet role of Hamor. HÅvard Stensvold gives a good account of Zebul, whereas Elisabeth Rapp convinces as the Angel. As far as I can tell the English pronunciation is quite good, but in some recitatives the diction could have been better. That is probably due to the fact that only Gilchrist is a native English speaker. No wonder his diction is immaculate.

The Collegium vocale Gent hardly needs any praise as it is one of the world's leading vocal ensembles in early music. Its transparency and agility are impressive as always, and these qualities are very opportune here. The famous chorus 'How dark, O Lord, are Thy decrees' is marvellously sung.

Despite some critical remarks this is a rather good performance. Even so I doubt whether it is real competition for recordings which are already on the market. There are two reasons: the first is the use of modern instruments, the second that the most dramatic parts are too restrained. My favourite recording so far is the one in which Marcus Creed conducts the RIAS Kammerchor and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin (1992, Berlin Classics; later reissued by Brilliant Classics). This recording by Fabio Biondi give me no reason to change my mind.

Johan van Veen


































































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

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.