Monday, May 3, 2010

Handel on eMusic: Sacred vocal

Sacred Vocal

Latin church music

Dixit Dominus; Dettingen Te Deum. Coro della Radio Svizzera; Ensemble Vanitas/Diego Fasolis [Arts] 23.

A 9/9 from Classics Today, and 4 for both performance and sound from BBC Music. A review of the Helbich/Naxos Dettingen Te Deum praised Fasolis's recording, describing the Dixit as "surprisingly good".

Dixit Dominus; Nisi Dominus. Ensemble William Byrd; Académie Sainte Cécile/Graham O'Reilly [L'Empreinte Digitale] 15.

No reviews found.

Dixit Dominus; Nisi Dominus; Silete venti. The Sixteen/Harry Christophers [Chandos] 20.

According to Gramophone, "The Sixteen have well nigh returned the canticles to the cloister whence they originated... The missing dimension is Handel's enjoyment of purely verbal expression and of the human voice itself". Penguin Guide gave it ***.

Dixit Dominus; Nisi Dominus; Salve Regina. Scholars Baroque Ensemble [Naxos] 18.

ClassicalNet found the Dixit performance "spirited and convincing in every way", while the other pieces "are less popular fare, but are still worthwhile, especially in performances this convincing". BBC Music gave it 3-3 and said "The Naxos recording is super-lean: the Scholars sing one-to-a-part with single strings, a transparency which allows great clarity and pace... Handel’s contrasts of texture – soloists/chorus – are lost, though individually the soloists are appealing". Classics Today gave it 7/7: "a vocal style that can only be described as "aggressive"... While we can appreciate such fearless display of energy and feeling in sacred music, the relentless barrage of percussive vocal power--does every note need to be accented?--merely leaves us wishing for the onslaught to stop".

Dixit Dominus, plus a mass by Heinichen. Dresdner Kammerchor; Dresdner Barockorchester/Hans-Christoph Rademann [Carus] 24.

No reviews found.

Dixit Dominus, plus a Dixit Dominus by Vivaldi. American Boychoir; Albemarle Consort of Voices; The Eighteenth Century Ensemble/James Litton [MusicMasters] 18.

No reviews found.

Gloria; Dixit Dominus. Emma Kirkby (soprano); Royal Academy of Music Baroque Orchestra/Laurence Cummings; Stockholm Bach Choir; Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble [BIS] 16.

An Editor's Choice in Gramophone, although the review says "This isn't the version of the Dixit that I would choose (I'd go for Minkowski on Archiv), but it's lively and perfectly acceptable". BBC Music gave the album top marks, but really only for the Gloria - "a lacklustre 1986 performance of the Dixit Dominus that is further spoiled by a murky, cavernous acoustic". The word "murky" also comes up in Fanfare's review for the Dixit, although the reviewer says it's "well performed"; the performance of the Gloria is "splendid". The trend continues with Classics Today: an 8/6, praise for the Gloria, and complaints of "a middle-of-the-road reading" of the Dixit with "badly muffled" sound. And it's pretty much the same with MusicWeb. The Penguin Guide was not troubled by the sound and gave the album ***.

The original release of the Dixit is here, along with the Concerto grosso op.6/6. Gramophone's original review described it as "zestful" and said the concerto "is played with well-balanced cheerfulness".

Gloria, plus a handful of other works and music by other composers. Suzie LeBlanc (soprano); Académie Baroque de Montréal/Alexander Weimann [Atma] 18. gave it 6 out of 10, saying "This is a light and perhaps slightly disembodied performance of the Gloria. It is pleasant to listen to yet quite far from Kirkby’s maturity and involvement both in music and text". This recording of the Gloria also shows up on a Handel-only compilation from Atma, "Suzie LeBlanc Portrait" (15 tracks, includes excerpts from other albums mentioned elsewhere on this page), which got a 10/10 from Classics Today and was also praised by American Record Guide as "an enjoyable mini-feast of Handel".

Gloria, plus Italian cantatas. Julianne Baird (soprano); The Queen's Chamber Band/Elaine Comparone [Lyrichord] 20.

See below, "Handel in Rome" under Secular cantatas.

Salve Regina; O qualis de coelo sonus; Coelestis dum spirat aura; Laudate pueri; Trio sonata in G minor, HWV393. Emma Kirkby (soprano); London Baroque [BIS] 27.

Top marks from BBC Music: "I’ve seldom been as moved by a recording, both music and performance". Praise also from Fanfare: "Robert von Bahr, the founder and presiding genius of BIS, has never been a man to shrink from strong statements, and so the advertisement for this disc on the back cover of a recent issue of Fanfare had him characterizing it as "the best vocal CD made—ever!" Well, that made me not a little nervous, but I am happy to report that my encounter with the actual release provokes no desire to put dramatically down what was thus so provocatively put up. This is indeed a wonderful recital". Full marks also from Classics Today, although only an 8/6/8 from KlassikHeute. gave it a 9, and indeed it was nominated for the 2002 Handel Recording Prize. The MusicWeb review concluded with "makes one wish that all Handel music making could be of this order". Gramophone also enjoyed it: "The organ continuo accompaniment in some of the vocal music tends to be over-prominent (partly as it is pitched too high), but otherwise these performances seem to me a model". Penguin Guide gave it *** and not only a key symbol but a Rosette too: "This is one of Kirkby's very finest Handel records... Not to be missed".

English church music

Chandos anthems (complete). The Sixteen/Harry Christophers [Chandos] 86.

Gramophone reviewed the 4 volumes separately: 1 - "In spite of small reservations, then, a warm welcome to this first volume"; 2 - "the essential spirit of these splendid anthems is only intermittently captured"; 3 - "Something of a mixed success, perhaps, Vol. 3 nevertheless can be more warmly commended to readers than Vol. 2. But I am still left with the feeling that I want rather more from this wonderful music"; 4 - "Altogether an excellent disc—first-rate music, done with style and spirit". (The first 3 were reviewed by Nicholas Anderson, the last by Stanley Sadie). Fanfare put the complete set in its Hall of Fame, July/Aug 2005. Penguin Guide gave each of the volumes *** - "one of the most successful and worthwhile achievements of The Sixteen on CD".

Chandos anthems nos.4, 6, and 11 (O sing unto the Lord, As pants the hart, and Let God arise). Ensemble William Byrd; Académie Sainte Cécile/Graham O'Reilly [L'Empreinte Digitale] 22.

Praised by Fanfare, which compared it with Christophers' set: "where O'Reilly is pointed, challenging, mercurial, and predominantly dramatic, Christophers is serene, grand, poignant, and predominantly musical. The l'empreinte digitale disc, much the more uncompromising of the two versions in its period-instrument avoidance of vibrato, flashes and thrusts at the listener like a rapier: The Chandos performances surround him with a halo of brightness that does not neglect dramatic expression but also leaves room for mystery. I am not sure which is the preferable approach in the long run". It was also praised by Gramophone: "O’Reilly is clearly a fine musician with a keen and true feeling for the music".

Coronation anthems; Silete venti. Tallis Chamber Choir; Royal Academy Consort/Jeremy Summerly [Naxos] 19.

"highly enjoyable and inspiriting", said Gramophone; "The young orchestra... play strongly and cleanly, with evident enthusiasm, and the Tallis Choir’s singing is a model of clarity". However, said "these decent yet deliberate performances of the four coronation anthems simply do not possess the ideal quota of vitality and flamboyance", giving it 6 out of 10. It scored 3-3 from BBC Music: "This Naxos disc is secure and has merit, but it does not add an awful lot to the catalogue except a viable cheaper alternative". (Intriguingly, it appears there is some sort of copying going on: the BBC Music review is credited to David Vickers, who has written many reviews for, but the review here is credited to Les Robarts, even though there are some identical phrases in the two - that bit about "the ideal quota" shows up in BBC Music too!). The disc was generally praised by MusicWeb, while Fanfare said "the singing and playing under Summerly’s direction is no more than ordinarily competent". The performance of Silete venti was generally well received by reviewers.

Coronation anthems; Organ concerto op.4 no.4; other orchestral and choral excerpts. The Sixteen/Harry Christophers [Coro] 20.

Disc of the Month for Gramophone: "overall this disc ranks as The Sixteen's most exciting achievement in its impressive Handel discography". BBC Music gave it 4-4, saying "overall, this is a regally polished programme".

Dettingen Te Deum. Collegium vocale des Bach-Chores Siegen; Hannoversche Hofkapelle Baroque Orchestra/ Ulrich Stötzel [Haenssler] 15.

This is "fresh and vital", according to Fanfare; "All in all, the music emerges as brilliant in conception, touching in expression, and masterly in detail". Classics Today was much less impressed: "brings with it all of the same problems that plagued the version by the Alsfelder Vocal Ensemble and Concerto Polacco on Naxos. Poor recorded sound that makes mush of the full-ensemble sections as well as an unevenly matched group of soloists... what appears to be a first rate choir and orchestra are undermined" (score: 6/5).

Dettingen Te Deum; Dixit Dominus. Coro della Radio Svizzera; Ensemble Vanitas/Diego Fasolis [Arts] 23.

See above, under Latin church music - Dixit Dominus.

Dettingen Te Deum; Te Deum in A major. Alsfelder Vokalensemble; Concerto Polacco/Wolfgang Helbich [Naxos] 21.

"warmly responsive to Handel’s music, even if in the end it falls short of deserving an accolade", according to BBC Music, which gave it 3-3. Gramophone heard "a sound‚ solid account [of the Dettingen] without perhaps quite making the best of it; it doesn’t seem as jubilant as it should... less brilliant in manner and more in a chamber style‚ [the A major Te Deum] fares rather better even if some of the criticisms voiced above still apply". Classics Today gave it 7/4, saying the "only moments of sonic clarity occur during vocal solos and orchestral sections. This is only partially rewarding, for the soloists vary in quality". The reviewer gave it 6: "The orchestra is competent, and the soloists are generally capable, but the choir is lackluster and the enterprise lacks vitality" - and now something of a rant: "Naxos have no problems with producing interesting projects on paper... nor with adequate technical standards involved in the recording process. The fatal flaw remains firmly with the disappointing sub-standard performances that they introduce into the marketplace. Indeed, their recordings of Handel are usually weak, and sometimes even chronic (e.g., Martini's Athalia). The company evidently still has considerable problems when it comes to achieving a respectable quality of musical insight in High Baroque music".

"Music for the Chapel Royal" - Let God arise; I will magnify thee, o God; As pants the hart; O sing unto the Lord. Choir of the Chapel Royal; Musicians Extra-ordinary/Andrew Gant [Naxos] 23.

Note: these pieces are related to, but not identical to, the Chandos anthems of the same names. The reviewer on said "There is no question about [Gant's] scholarship and musicianship, and the performances he leads on this CD are not just stylistically appropriate, but also full of life and excitement... Sometimes the choral sound is somewhat thin, but it is never tenuous, and everyone involved in this recording should be pleased… as I am sure Handel himself would have been". There were 3 MusicWeb reviews: one said "I have mixed feelings about this disc... the blending and balance between the voices - in particular the adult singers - is problematic. And the choruses sometimes lack clarity, which isn't only due to the acoustical circumstances. Despite the shortcomings there is enough to enjoy and the music is too good to be missed"; another said "We don’t find out who comprise the Musicians Extra-ordinary but it would be nice to know. They sound like an expert group of specialists. They and the chorus, so adeptly directed by Andrew Gant are especially felicitous. None of the soloists are outstanding but they all acquit themselves well"; and the third said "Here we find perfect choral singing and faultless orchestral playing all brought together and coordinated superbly by Andrew Gant". Classics Today gave it 8/8: "While the choir and orchestra here are very good, the soloists are a bit shaky"., however, only gave it 2-4-3.

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