Continuinghis exploration of Handel operas, maestro René Jacobs now turns his attention to Agrippina the first great operatic success of the composer s Italian period. Composed in 1709, Agrippina is an opera seria in three acts on a libretto by Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani. The opera tells the story of Agrippina, the mother of Nero, as she plots the downfall of the Roman Emperor Claudius and the installation of her son as emperor. Grimani s libretto, considered one of the best that Handel set, is full of topical political allusions. Some believe that it reflects the rivalry between Grimani and Pope Clement XI. From its opening night, the work was given a then- unprecedented run of 27 consecutive performances and received much critical acclaim. Observers were full of praise for the quality of the music much of which, in keeping with the contemporary custom, had been borrowed and adapted from other works, including some from other composers. Jacobs performs the work in its original version.
Gottfried August Homilius, now considered the greatest cantor of Dresden's Kreuzchor, was, for a while a student of Johann Sebastian Bach. A composer of music for the church, and a great organist, he was described, in 1790, as 'one of the greatest and worthiest organists alive.'
While Homilius's name is found on only one score for this passion, stylistic criteria make it almost certain that he wrote this music. This St. Matthew Passion closely resembles Bach's passions - it contains choral movements, recitatives and arias with orchestral accompaniment, and tells the story of the Passion in the same way as was done in churches all over Germany in the 18th century. However, Homilius uses many more short sections with recitative (a total of 89 pieces altogether - most less than one minute long), but his arias are generally much longer than those in Bach's passions and cantatas.