George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
The Triumph of Time and Truth (HWV71) (1757/8)
Sophie Bevan, Mary Bevan (sopranos), Tim Mead (counter-tenor), Ed Lyon (tenor), William Berger (bass)
Ludus Baroque/Richard Neville-Towle
rec. Canongate Kirk, Edinburgh, 4-7 August 2013. DDD.
Booklet with texts included
DELPHIAN DCD34135 [78:28 + 76:15]
It is good to have another recording of The Triumph of Time and Truth to complement that of Denys Darlow and the London Handel Orchestra on Hyperion, recorded in 1982 and reissued in 2005.
Ludus Baroque under Richard Neville-Towle gives a fine account of the Overture. The opening slow section is stylish and detailed, and the fast section includes some attractive playing from the winds where judicious articulation provides interest. Although Richard Neville-Towle is slightly quicker than Darlow, I have a preference for the latter’s wittier and more rhythmically vital approach here and his greater dynamic contrasts.
Neville-Towle’s chorus enters with great flair, sense of excitement and forward propulsion in Time is Supreme. Sophie Bevan (soprano), as Beauty sings with a lovely tone and she captures the mood admirably in Faithful mirror, fair-reflecting. She is more than a match for Gillian Fisher for Darlow, and although their performances are so different, they are equally convincing. In Pensive Sorrow, the tenor Ed Lyon as Pleasure on the Delphian recording has a rather too wide vibrato for my taste, and he has a totally different sound quality from Ian Partridge for Darlow on Hyperion. However, I have never been too keen on Partridge’s voice, so personally I must state a preference for Lyon who phrases musically and captures the mood well. I just wish there was less vibrato on the long, high notes. On the other hand Lyon’s performance of Sorrow darkens ev’ry feature is beautifully done. This is a fabulous aria and sung by Pleasure, not Beauty as stated in the programme booklet. (Ed. - It may be one of the additions made by Smith in 1758, as it doesn’t feature on the Hyperion recording.)
Counter-tenor Tim Mead takes the part of Counsel. He sings The Beauty Smiling very attractively and with lovely tone. I would have preferred a tempo a tad slower to allow for greater subtlety of phrasing and clarity of diction, but his singing is most rewarding to hear. Charles Brett on the Hyperion is better in these respects and it is a preferable, sprightlier performance to my ears.
William Berger’s rich bass as Time is used to good effect in his first aria Loathsome urns. Still too much vibrato on some notes for me to give it full marks, but maybe others will not notice or be bothered by this. His performance is aided by fabulous orchestral playing. Darlow is much quicker here, but his orchestra is equally fine. Also I much prefer the sound of Stephen Varcoe in this aria on the Hyperion. Just a touch of sensitive vibrato makes for a superior performance, and Varcoe captures the moods really well.
Soon we hear the inimitable Emma Kirkby (Hyperion) as Deceit in Happy, if still they reign in pleasure. As always her intonation and delivery are perfect, as is the orchestra, sometimes in unison with the soloist. Neville-Towle pushes his performance forward a bit more. His soloist, Mary Bevan, is very good indeed but lovers of Emma Kirkby’s sound, including myself, will prefer the Hyperion.
The Chorus at the beginning of Act Two in the Delphian recording is superbly performed. I like the orchestral phrasing and expression from the string players at the start. The singers taking the solo parts are excellent and the balance superb. As the music becomes increasingly complex every word can clearly be heard in the finely balanced recording. Darlow is significantly slower and more solid, but his performance is effective, nevertheless.
There is so much first class music to be heard in this rarely-performed oratorio. For example, Sharp thorns despising in Act 3 provides Mary Bevan with some virtuosic passagework to think about. She copes magnificently with the hurdles Handel has placed before her. Emma Kirkby is superb, too, on the Hyperion which is a somewhat less resonant recording. The Hyperion sounds a little boxy in the final chorus Alleluja, and the more modern Delphian recording wins from this point of view.
The two performances and recordings are very different but equally valid and of very high quality, though the Hyperion recording shows its age a bit. Your choice could depend on which soloists you prefer. This is wonderful music and ideally one should own both recordings.
Previous review: Brian Wilson
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