George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759): Susanna. Oratorio. First performed 1749. Complete version including all the music that Handel later deleted. Performed by Lorraine Hunt and Jill Feldman, soprano, Drew Minter, countertenor, Jeffrey Thomas, tenor, David Thomas and William Parker, bass; the U.C. Berkely Chamber Choir; the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, San Francisco, conducted by Nicholas McGegan. Recorded live in September, 1989, at the Hertz Hall at the University of California.
The impressive discography of Handel operas and oratorios from Nicholas McGegan continues with this recording of Radamisto, made following staged performances of the opera at the 1993 Göttingen Handel Festival. Generally speaking, McGegan has derived better results in those sets using the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra (as here) than in those made with his Californian forces. The German players sustain his brisk tempi with relative ease, though McGegan’s penchant for spiky staccato and short, snatched phrases rather than long lines does not always do the music full justice. The stars are the countertenor Ralf Popken in the title role and Juliana Gondek as his long-suffering wife, Zenobia. Popken has the technique to get round the heroics of ‘Perfido’ with ease, yet delivers the expressive slow numbers, such as ‘Cara sposa’, with exquisite eloquence. Gondek is equally versatile: formidable in her rage arias, touching in the griefstricken ‘Quando mai’. (Barry Millington)
Handel’s second opera for the so-called “rival queens,” Francesca Cuzzoni and Faustina Bordoni, was Admeto, which had its premiere in 1727. Their purported rivalry—created more by the public than by the singers themselves—resulted most famously in the cat fight parodied by John Gay in his Beggar’s Opera of the same year. The operas Handel wrote for these reigning divas are as musically brilliant as any of his other works. But as a result of his attempts to structure dramas that would give absolutely equal value to two leading ladies, the rival-queen operas are dramatically problematic and strain credulity at times, Admeto not excepted.
It is only a short while since I reviewed a suite of dances from Rameau's opera, Nais. Now, hard on the heels of that disc (also conducted by McGegan, Harmonia Mundi, 7/95) comes a reissue of the entire work, albeit with judicious cuts. Nais was commissioned to celebrate the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, and first performed the following year. Thus it was a vocal counterpart to Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks, both pieces marking the conclusion of the War of the Austrian Succession. The present recording was made in 1980 following performances at London's Old Vic Theatre and at Versailles under the auspices of Lina Lalandi's enterprising English Bach Festival.
Agrippina (HWV 6) is an opera seria in three acts by George Frideric Handel with a libretto by Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani. Composed for the 1709–10 Venice Carnevale season, 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 an "anti-heroic satirical comedy", full of topical political allusions. Some analysts believe that it reflects Grimani's political and diplomatic rivalry with Pope Clement XI.
With over 30 of Handel’s operas awaiting a first CD recording, it seems indecent luxury to find two splendid new recordings of Ottone, a work in the vanguard of the German Handel opera revival in the 1920s, but long since relegated to obscurity. Both benefit immensely by being based on stage performances, Nicholas McGegan’s from the Göttingen Handel Festival, of which he is artistic director, Robert King’s from a production that successfully toured the UK and Japan. Broadly speaking, McGegan’s reading is distinguished by a compelling sense of drama and a wonderful feeling for Handelian style, sometimes at the expense of tonal beauty; King’s is smoother, occasionally letting the dramatic impetus flag, but offering playing of consistent strength and fine shading. McGegan, however, fields the marginally more convincing team of singers, led by Drew Minter, whose pure bright tone, breathtaking coloratura and ardent delivery give pleasure at every hearing; Bowman, for King, sings with sensitivity but his mannered tone and technical limitations are serious drawbacks. Conversely, Dominique Visse, for King, with his inimitable reedy timbre and impeccable musicianship, is matchless as Ottone’s rival in kingship, Adelberto, fine as Ralf Popken is for McGegan. Of the female roles, Claron McFadden produces a stream of radiant tone as Teofane; but so does Lisa Saffer, who, in addition, offers a wider range of colour. Both sets are recommendable, but Minter’s charismatic performance, Saffer’s deeper perceptions and the inclusion of arias Handel wrote for later revivals tip the balance in favour of McGegan. Whatever your choice, it’s an opera not to be missed. (Antony Bye)
Handel's Atalanta is one of the lesser known operas in the never-ending list of operas, oratorios and other vocal works.
The recording is very well put together and features a good cast of singers, a good Hungarian baroque orchestra on period instruments - Capella Savaria under the direction of the accomplished Nicholas McGegan, music director of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra. The playing is tight and top notch and well executed much to the normal expectations for any of McGegan's recordings…
Serse has been one of my favorite Handel operas since I first heard the old Priestman LP on Westminster (Maureen Forrester in the title role, Lucia Popp as Romilda). Despite its frequent raggedness and "harpsichord on speed" continuo, this was a thoroughly dramatic and engaging performance. I've waited for decades for a new Serse which could benefit from the new performance standards we take for granted in baroque opera today. I was strongly disposed to like this disc, since although I've found McGegan a bit uneven in the past, his more recent Handel efforts, particularly Radamisto, have been superb. I can't fault the singers or orchestra in this performance, but the dramatic spark that makes Serse so special seems to me to be missing. I went back and compared my old Priestman recording and was even more convinced that the definitive Serse is yet to come. It's surprising there haven't been more recordings, since this work has a lot of potential appeal, and is one of Handel's most accomplished pieces. Maybe I'm just too picky, but I'd love to see someone reissue the Priestman on CD– and while they are at it, his equally engaging Rodelinda (fortunately, there is better competition for the latter).
George Frideric Handel (1685 – 1759): Italian Cantatas “Clori, Tirsi e Fileno” and “Apollo e Dafne”. Oboe Concerto in G Minor. Performed by various soloists and the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, directed from the harpsichord by Nicholas McGegan.
Samson, which is one of Handel’s last religious oratorios, is in three acts, and was first performed in London in February 1743. “For this work,” states Raphaël Legrand, “Handel borrowed much from others (namely, Telemann, T. Muffat, Legrenzi, Carissimi) and effectively transformed many motifs by Numinor de Giovanni Porta that he heard in London in 1720, which greatly inspired him. Propelled by the success of John Beard, whose great musicality surpassed his less than great voice, and impacting the future of the English oratorio, Handel innovated by attributing the lead role to a tenor (Italian operas privileged the voices of castrates and women).” The new production presented here, recorded in June 2006, is quite simply dazzling. Driven by Nicolas Mc Gegan’s conducting that is supple, profound and light all at once, it offers beauty at each instant, most notably in its highly homogeneous chorus, and in its two leads, Thomas Colley in the role of Samson and Sopie Daneman as Dalila, who deploy extraordinary emotion. The rest of the cast must also be commended for great balance in a fluid and serene musical discourse. This is quite an accomplishment in a wonderful sound recording.