One of the most grown-up review sites around

51,000 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


Reger Violin Sonatas
Renate Eggebrecht violin

Brahms Symphony 3
Dvorak Symphony 8
9 cello sonatas
Piano Music

Clara Schumann
piano concerto

Asmik Grigorian

Breathtaking Performance
controversial staging
Review Westbrook
Review Hedley
Every lover of Salome should see this recording
Mullenger interpretation

Vraiment magnifique!

Quite splendid

Winning performances

Mahler Symphony 8
a magnificent disc

a huge talent

A wonderful disc

Weinberg Symphonies 2 & 21
A handsome tribute!

Roth’s finest Mahler yet

Mahler 9 Blomstedt
Distinguished performance


REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

We are currently offering in excess of 51,000 reviews

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

Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Serse, HWV40 (1737-38)
Serse - Anna Stéphany (mezzo)
Arsamene - David Daniels (counter-tenor)
Amastre - Hilary Summers (contralto)
Ariodate - Brindley Sherratt (bass)
Romilda - Rosemary Joshua (soprano)
Atalanata - Joélle Harvey (soprano)
Elviro - Andreas Wolf (bass-baritone)
Early Opera Company/Christian Curnyn
rec. August 2012, Church of St. Silas the Martyr, Kentish Town, London
Texts and translations included
CHANDOS CHAN 0797(3) [3 CDs: 66:46 + 60:16 + 39:27]

Serse (Xerxes) fits very comfortably onto three CDs, and one can’t say that of many Handel operas. In fact in this performance it lasts well short of three hours and its compactness and theatrical memorable qualities have ensured that it’s remained one of Handel’s most popular stage works.
In this recording we have a cast as fine, corporately, as any that has tackled the work on disc. Anna Stéphany, assuming the title role, inhabits it with considerable skill and no little stylistic wisdom. Her well-supported mezzo gives us the work’s most popular tune, Ombra mai fu, in which Christian Curnyn keeps the Early Opera Company on the move without in any way harrying his soloist. It’s a mark of the set that tempi are keen but not breathless. It’s also the case that whilst instrumental colour is polished it’s not at all replete with the kind of occasionally discursive and ear-grabbing moments that can afflict - or enliven - other recordings of Handelian opera. In that respect Curnyn’s approach is without infelicitous gesture. Tempi are crisp and directional but the music never emerges as driven or subject to some perception alien to the natural limits of vocal phrase lengths.
As Romilda, there is the excellent Rosemary Joshua, whose soprano sounds appropriately youthful and vigorous. It’s noticeable how, in her Act I aria Và godendeo vezzozo e bello Curnyn ensure that the winds’ answering phrases are always audible. Joélle Harvey, who has been making a name for herself as a Handel soprano, rises to the role of Atalanta. She sings Sì, sì, mio ben, her Act I larghetto with flowing elegance, her vibrato not at all too oscillatory. The inimitable David Daniels reprises the role of Arsamene, Serse’s brother. The voice is still perfectly placed and his instinct for phraseology and stress is as tremendous as ever: one listen to Meglio in voi col mio partire will attest to that, still less the lovely Non so se sia la speme or the seductive legato he cultivates in his Act II aria Quella che tutta fé. Brindley Sherratt is no less personable a communicator, a strong but not blustery bass and highly efficient as Ariodate. Hilary Summers is always a characterful singer and her feisty contralto - powerful chest voice to the fore during Saprà delle mie offese - is put to good use as Amastre. I have no complaints about Andreas Wolf’s voice but his assumption of the role of the servant, Elviro, is the occasion for some rather questionable croaking impersonation. He has a nice ear for dynamics but I think he has been misled as to the effectiveness of his satiric vocalising.
Serse’s Act II is notable for its rapid series of ariosos and recitatives. It gives the music a breathtakingly unstoppable feeling, a sense of scenes running over and beyond themselves in a sheer escalation of drama. The cast proves up to the challenge and when the music stops, as it famously does for the showpiece ariaSe bramate d’amar chi vi sdegna, Stéphany is worthy of the music. Certainly, vocally and instrumentally, I’ve heard it taken more theatrically, indeed with more overt flair, but for a reading that lacks mannerism this is fine. To the charge that it lacks the ultimate in electric intensity, I would have to concede that it does. Still, as she shows in her Act III aria Crude furie she lacks for little in respect of tonal depth and mastery of divisions. The music screws up the tension still more in this final act, the shortest of the three at 40 minutes. A succession of quick arias, choruses and recitatives drives things remorselessly onward and here Curnyn’s unspectacular but thoughtful performance bears cumulative fruit.
This is a fine recording and a pack-leader at the moment for those who want this opera on disc. William Christie’s performance on Virgin lacks the consistency of Curnyn’s casting and Jean-Claude Malgoire’s 1979 Sony recording - with some first-rate singers including Barbara Hendricks, Caroline Watkinson and Paul Esswood - is subject to some of the conductor’s less sympathetic direction. There have been other recordings, but none so far to compare with this excellently engineered Chandos release.
Jonathan Woolf