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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Gideon – Oratorio in Three Parts compiled by John Christopher SMITH (1712-1795)
Angel/Israelite – Barbara Hannigan (soprano)
Oreb/messenger/Israelite – Linda Perillo (soprano)
Eliakim/Israelite – Nicola Wemyss (soprano)
Israelite – David Cordier (counter tenor)
Gideon – Knut Schoch (tenor)
Prophet/Joash/Priest of Baal – Stephan MacLeod (bass)
Junge Kantorei
Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra/Joachim Carlos Martini
Recorded live at Kloster Eberbach, Rheingau on 8th June 2003
NAXOS 8.557312-13 [2 CDs: 76.27 + 76.26]

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Naxos has hit on a profitable sideline in their exploration of that entertaining genre, the Posthumous Handel Oratorio Franchise. Like many a late author, the estates and publishers respond to the unavoidable lacuna in their midst - and to the still pressing demand of the public - with pasticcio works in which a composite work is constructed through the use of excerpts from other works or indeed other composers’ works. I’ve already reviewed Nabal, again largely the ‘stitching’ work of John Christopher Smith and here we have Gideon, another of his ingenious constructions.

After Handel’s death Smith collaborated with the composer’s old librettist Thomas Morell and hit on Gideon; Smith provided the text with arias, ensembles and choruses – and, as before, he used his own works as well. The source music is in the main from Dixit Dominus, La Resurrezione, Silete venti, Aminta e Fillide, the Nine German Arias and Laudate pueri Dominum – there are other sources as well but these are the principal ones. Smith mined his own music as well to an appreciable degree; I haven’t done the pounds, shillings and pence but it must be shared about fifty-fifty between the two composers, with Smith employing numbers in particular from his own The Feast of Darius.

Given that Smith chose with acumen some less well-known choruses and arias the venture can be accounted a success. In this recording, given in concert apparently in Kloster Eberbach in Rheingau (though I didn’t hear any audience noise; they must have been commendably quiet) we do have some disadvantages. The singers are an attractive sextet but sopranos Barbara Hannigan and Nicola Wemyss stand out. Counter-tenor David Cordier starts a little unsteadily but improves and Stephan MacLeod has a rather light but agile bass. As Gideon, Knut Schoch is attractive if also a little lightweight; Linda Perillo sings rather unevenly throughout. The chorus is let down by the acoustic which turns mushy in the bigger numbers and inclines to spread elsewhere, but the orchestral touches are nice, with colourful variety from organ and harpsichord and orchestral soloists.

Some highlights and points to note; Cormier starts nervously and the downward shifts exaggerate unsteadiness in his voice but by the time of his standout aria May kind Angels he’s on good form. Hannigan and Wemyss start as they mean to go on in an excellent and fluent duet with chorus Lord, we seek thy blessing and Linda Perillo posts notice of her rather edgier, more metallic soprano in her recitative Westward from reverend Jordan’s silver stream. Hannigan copes well with the difficulties of Thou light of Israel – she does particularly well by the exposed top notes. I enjoyed the lute-like sonorities of the accompanying string group behind the two soprano recitative Thou bowing mild as well as the increasingly alto-ish tonal qualities of David Cordier. The Part II choruses aren’t very well blended and the sopranos in particular are distant in the balance but this is a handicap of the setting of the recording throughout.

I’m not sure what audience there will be for yet another of these pasticcio oratorios but at this price there aren’t many serious reservations to be made about the spirit of the interpretation, even if there are some problematic feature along the way.

Jonathan Woolf

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