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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]

Having listened to and enjoyed the Qobuz lossless streamed version of this recording, I was about to review it in Download News 2014/9 when the 2-CD set arrived. I contented myself pro tem with saying that I had enjoyed it very much but had not yet had a chance to do a direct comparison with the earlier and less expensive Hyperion Dyad, a recording with a strong cast and the London Handel Orchestra directed by Denys Darlow (CDD22050 – review). Your target price for the Hyperion should be £10.50 – or £7.99 as a download in mp3 or lossless sound from hyperion-records.co.uk – whereas the new Delphian sells in the UK for around £16.
 
In the case of Handel’s oratorios, his end really was his beginning. As a youthful sensation in Rome in 1707 he had set Cardinal Pamphili’s Il Trionfo del tempo e del Disinganno – the triumph of time and freedom from deceit (HWV46a). In 1737 he revised and expanded the work, still with the Italian text but with a slight change of title: Verità (truth) in place of Disinganno (HWV46b). The Italian oratorio has been recorded by Roberta Invernizzi, Kate Aldrich, Martin Oro, Jörg Dürmüller, Academia Montis Regalis and Alessandro de Marchi for Hyperion (CDA67681/2 – review: available on CD, mp3 and lossless download from hyperion-records.co.uk).
 
For a performance of the Italian version on a smaller, more intimate scale, there is also a recording made live at the Wigmore Hall in January 2010. With Christian Curnyn directing the Early Opera Company and fine performances from Lucy Crowe, Anna Stephany, Hilary Summers and Andrew Staples, the only disadvantage in choosing to download this recording from classicsonline.com is that it comes in mp3 only, albeit at the top 320kb/s, sounding fine if you turn the volume up a little. It also comes with the booklet containing texts and translations and all for £9.98. As we know very little about the circumstances of the 1707 performance, it’s perfectly feasible that there would have been no more instrumentalists than fit into the Wigmore Hall (Wigmore Hall Live WHL0042).
 
I liked both of these but Johan van Veen had reservations about the Hyperion and Wigmore recordings in his review of the latter. He tends to be more critical than me but there’s a third recording of which he did approve and it’s available very inexpensively: if you are looking for an outstanding bargain, 7digital.com are offering the 2-CD set of Rinaldo Alessandrini’s performance of HWV46a (Naïve OP30440 – review) which has somehow become conflated with over two hours of Handel arias, the contents of four CDs in all, no doubt erroneously, for £5.49. Snap it up while it’s available.
 
With brisk but not hurried tempi, fine contributions from Deborah York, Gemma Bertagnolli, Sara Mingardo, Nicholas Sears and Concerto Italiano, and with top-rate 320kb/s mp3, the only downside is that, taught by past experience from this provider, I downloaded the tracks separately and then had to sort all 55 into the right order – inserting 01, 02, etc. at the beginning of each – otherwise the opening sinfonia plays at the very end. Please note, 7digital: classical music, especially opera and oratorio, needs to be played in the right order. There’s no booklet but the libretto is easily available online.
 
There are so many differences between first, Italian, and final, English, thoughts and the Hyperion, Wigmore Hall and Naïve recordings of the former are so good that I commend one or all of them for your consideration.
 
Finally, in 1757 the librettist of Messiah, the Rev Thomas Morell, translated the text into English, steering a typically Anglican middle way between the devotion to Mary Magdalene of the Italian original and Calvinist predestination. The kind of Arminianism or semi-Pelagianism which had been the English theological via media since the time of Hooker’s Ecclesiastical Polity in the late 16th-century is inherent in his revision of the text.
 
It has often been assumed that Handel was too ill to have had much part in this final version and John Christopher Smith Jr has usually been assigned the role of assembling the music from other works by Handel. Certainly Smith did produce some Handel opera pastiches after the composer’s death, but Peter Small makes a strong case in the notes for the final version, even for the lifted Comfort them, O Lord, from the Foundling Hospital Anthem, a work composed for an institution close to Handel’s heart. What might, perhaps, have been more clearly explained is that Smith expanded the role of Deceit in 1758 and it’s that version which we hear on Delphian. Hyperion offer the shorter 1757 version and omit Comfort them, as out of context.
 
I’ve already said that I enjoyed hearing the streamed version from Qobuz. I wasn’t surprised, because Ludus Baroque had already given us fine recordings of Handel: the Song for St Cecilia’s Day – reviewreview – and Alexander’s Feastreview – both, like the present release, for Delphian.
 
Both Ludus Baroque (Delphian) and the London Handel Orchestra (Hyperion) commence with stylish accounts of the overture: the former are a little more playful, the latter more dignified and the Hyperion recording, though it’s the older, slightly fuller.
 
I listened to both accounts of Deceit’s aria Sharp thorns despising (Act 3, No.3). Here it’s the Hyperion performance that is the sprightlier and, winning as Mary Bevan is, Emma Kirkby is even more so. For me the least attractive voice in the Hyperion line-up is Ian Partridge as Pleasure. I can’t compare his account of Happy Beauty directly with the new recording because the aria is switched there, as in the 1758 revival, to Deceit and here Mary Bevan wins the contest. Lovely Beauty, close those eyes, is retained for Pleasure on the new recording and here, too, I must express a preference for Ed Lyon over Ian Partridge.
 
In Beauty’s Guardian Angels, O protect me I compared Sophie Bevan with Gillian Fisher on the older recording. Here again Denys Darlow sets a faster tempo. Both are very well sung and both sound suitably languid, despite that tempo difference: I have to resort to the tennis score of deuce here.
 
I haven’t yet mentioned Tim Mead or William Berger but the former acquits himself well in the only countertenor aria from this work that features in recitals, Mortals think that time is sleeping. I haven’t heard Iestyn Davies on the recent Vivat album – John Quinn though this aria beguiling – review – but I note that he and the King’s Consort there adopt a tempo very similar to that on Delphian, whereas Charles Brett and Denys Darlow are much faster. Both tempi work well; it’s only by comparison that the Hyperion sounds a little rushed.
 
In Loathsome Urns, too, William Berger adopts a measured tempo. The slight difference of text between the two versions doesn’t account for the much faster timing on Hyperion (5:12 against 7:14). Again Neville-Towle’s more measured tempo for William Berger and Darlow’s more lilting approach for Stephen Varcoe work well within their own terms.
 
This is not the best-known of Handel’s works to include a Hallelujah chorus – in this case it rounds off the work, with slightly more clarity on Delphian than on Hyperion but hardly enough to be decisive. I’m left with the conclusion, then, that you can’t really go wrong with either of these fine recordings. I suggest that you go to the Hyperion website – here – and sample any of Ian Partridge’s arias. If you react more favourably to his voice than I do – as you well may – the slight but significant advantage of hearing Emma Kirkby on that recording could easily sway the balance.
 
Brian Wilson