Handel’s 1736 opera 'Atalanta' concluded with a spectacular display of fireworks in its first year of performance; it has only recently been revived for the first time since the 18th century. The fireworks on this live Philharmonia Baroque recording from 2005 are of the vocal variety. The San Francisco Chronicle raved: “Magnificent… the most vibrant, exhilarating stretch of musical showmanship this organization has offered in many a long season.
Terpsicore (HWV)(8b) is a prologue in the form of an opéra-ballet by George Frideric Handel. Handel composed it in 1734 for a revision of his opera Il pastor fido which had first been presented in 1712. The revision of Il pastor fido with Terpsicore as the prologue was first performed on 9 November 1734 at Covent Garden theatre in London, opening Handel's first season in that newly built theatre. Terpsicore mixes dance along with solo and choral singing and was patterned after models in French operas, a particular source being Les festes grecques et romaines by Louis Fuzelier and Colin de Blamont, first presented in Paris in 1723. The work featured the celebrated French dancer Marie Sallé as well as stars of Handel's Italian operas and was a success with audiences of the day.
George Frederick Handel (1685-1759), one of the preeminent Baroque composers, was born in Germany, educated in Italy, and spent most of his career in England, making him one of the first genuinely cosmopolitan composers noted, for the elegance, sophistication, and tunefulness of his music. He established his reputation in London as a composer of Italian opera, but after public taste shifted in the 1730s, he turned to English oratorios, the most famous of which is Messiah. Other popular works include Water Music, Royal Fireworks Music, the operas Giulio Cesare and Serse, and the oratorios Israel in Egypt and Judas Maccabeus.
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.
Judas Maccabaeus (HWV 63) is an oratorio in three acts composed in 1746 by George Frideric Handel based on a libretto written by Thomas Morell. The oratorio was devised as a compliment to the victorious Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland upon his return from the Battle of Culloden (16 April 1746).
The St. John Passion was long regarded as an early work by Handel, written in Hamburg in 1704. It had to be early, as there are few really Handelian fingerprints in the music. In the late 1960s though, musicologists started allocating it to Georg Böhm (1661-1733), a Thuringian-born composer who worked in Hamburg and Luneburg. He is remembered chiefly for his fine organ music and his influence on Bach. But the record booklet makes an interesting case for Handel's authorship, particularly as Handel's friend Mattheson was an advocate of the work.
Let's not waste time: get this for soprano Lucy Crowe's voice, for her performance of "What passion cannot Music raise", for her "The soft complaining flute"–and don't forget the glorious "But oh! What art can teach". Okay–just get this for the magnificent Crowe, whose golden, ringing tone and impeccable, uninhibited technique sets Handel's arias ablaze in vibrant, scintillating glory, relegating any recorded competition to second-class status. (Listen to that long-held, stratospheric note in the final chorus, on the words "The trumpet shall be heard on high"–on high, indeed; it seems like Crowe could have sustained it forever!) To sing Handel requires technical ease and comfort, range and unreserved explicatory ability–and in this, and in her complete habitation of the world of Handelian style Lucy Crowe is unsurpassed.