Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line

Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Georg Friedrich HAENDEL (1685-1759)

Sinéad Pratschke, soprano
Michael Chance, alto
Marc LeBrocq, tenor
Raimund Nolte, baritone
David Thomas, bass
Maulbronner Kammerchor
Barockorchester der Klosterkonzert, Jürgen Budday
Rec: September 25-26, 1999, Maulbronn Monastery, Germany.
K&K VERLAGSANSTALT ISBN 3-930643-62-6 [154.31]

Handel's oratorio Samson, composed in 1741, recounts the betrayal, the remorse and the victory of Samson, the Israeli army commander, whose power grew with his hair. The work begins one year after he is captured and blinded, when the priests of the pagan god Dagon are celebrating their greatest triumph. In his last struggle, Samson, accompanied by his father Manoah and his friend Micah, has to withstand the temptations of the seductress Dalila and the giant Harapha, which are both followers of Dagon. When his strength returns, Samson smashes the pillars of Dagonís temple and buries the enemies and himself under the rubble.

With this biblical subject, Handel composed one of his most beautiful oratorios. Featuring a wealth of memorable arias, and some excellent choral movements, this work is one of his finest. This recording, one of three Handel oratorios so far released by this label, was recorded live over two performances at the Maulbronn Monastery in Germany. One of the main attractions of this recording is the distinctive sound of the monastery. The first few minutes of the work sound good, but when the choir begins singing in the second section of the work, the full beauty of this rich sound is heard. The choir, in fact, is one of the high points of this recording. Its sound is outstanding, partly because of the singing, and partly because of the natural resonance of the venue.

The very first aria, Ye men of Gaza, sung by soprano Sinéad Pratschke, is sung with great beauty and emotion. Her voice is beautiful, and it marries perfectly with the monastery, giving a truly magical effect. Her voice is heavenly and ethereal in the gentle aria With plaintive notes..., a slow, moving song which recalls many of the arias in Bach's sacred cantatas, where a soprano sings over an obbligato violin weaving arabesques around the vocal melody, as her voices resounds gently in the echo of the monastery.

Michael Chance is also memorable, and he shines in the moving aria Then long eternity shall greet your bliss, a beautiful piece that begins slowly, then moves into a second section with a much more rapid melody, as Chance shows off his fine voice. He is nothing short of magnificent in the long aria Return, o God of Hosts!, one of Handel's most striking songs, with its slow, riverlike strophic melody, which Chance's voice fits perfectly. This aria, at almost 14 minutes long, is like a miniature opera on its own. After the first few verses sung by the solo alto, to a pulsing string accompaniment, the choir joins in for a second section, the alto sings another verse, and the choir joins again, before a closing orchestral reprise of the verse melody.

This work has many other fine arias, such as Just are the ways of God to man, sung by baritone Raimund Nolte, and Honour and arms scorn such a foe, sung by bass David Thomas. To make sure none of the soloists are left out, Marc LeBrocq is an outstanding Samson.

This fine recording has the advantages and disadvantages of all live recordings - while the tension and drama are evident, there are a few moments when the sound is a bit muddy, with the orchestra overpowering the soloists. Yet, on the whole, the sound in this monastery is excellent. This is a beautiful recording of one of Handel's finest oratorios, and is highly recommended.

Kirk McElhearn


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