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Monday, October 20, 2014

Handel, Jephtha, The Sixteen, Harry Christophers

Handel stands or falls in the performance. That's true of baroque masters in general as it is true of any period's greats. Handel's operas and oratorios are not only no exception, there have been (especially before the original instruments movement) a fair number of lackluster performances available. When he is played and interpreted well, there is magic. Luckily for us we have a near perfect gathering of singers, instrumentalists and interpretive acumen in the new new Sixteen/Harry Christophers recording of Handel's last oratorio Jephtha (CORO 16121 3-CDs). Since we discussed Christophers and the Handel and Haydn Society version of Handel's Messiah Friday, today's post follows logically.

It is a remarkable work, even for Handel. There is great drama, excellent arias, good choruses and the memorable tunefulness that characterizes Handel at his best. Destiny marks the overall theme. The vocal soloists do an exceptional job: James Gilchrist, Susan Bickley, Sophie Bevan, Robin Blaze, Matthew Brook and Grace Davidson, all.

The choral passages (with a relatively small group per the accepted practices of the era) are presented with spirit, the small, period-instruments orchestra glows with all the warmth and sweetness a good period ensemble can give. The tempos do not drag. Time passes quickly as they draw us in. We respond with pleasure. The drama comes through without pretension, straightforwardly. And the libretto is in English, which makes the work all the more accessible for my English speaking readers.

The recording gives cogent proof, if we didn't already know, that as great as the Sixteen and Christophers are for Palestrina (see previous posts), they are just as accomplished in putting together a ravishing interpretation of a Handel Oratorio.

Highly recommended!

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