Monday, May 31, 2010

Which reviews? (Cheap version)

There are 2 review sites I use for helping me make decisions about what albums to buy, and (consequently) for working out the Nereffid's Guide Awards: Classics Today and MusicWeb International. Why these and not any others? Actually the basis for that is a simple logistic one: aside from any question of whether their reviews are trustworthy, they're the two sites that combine a significant number of reviews with a decent searchability or browsability. The fact that they divide their reviews up on a month-by-month basis just made it easier for me to periodically update the old Nereffid's Guide without "losing my place".
That's one reason a site like Audiophile Audition, which simply lists all its reviews in reverse chronological order, hasn't stayed on my radar, although every so often I toy with the idea of making it an "official source". is also guilty of poor browsability, plus they need to increase their rate of reviews to persuade me to keep coming back (last one on May 11) - a pity, because they're a mostly young bunch that seem to have much to offer. is useful more as an archive than a source of new reviews, because their list of latest reviews is done on a work-by-work basis rather than disc-by-disc. But at least you can browse the reviews by composer.
There were three foreign-language sites that I used to use for the Nereffid's Guide Awards: Classics Today France, Klassik Heute, and, but really they were only there to make up the numbers - I wasn't reading the reviews, just making use of their scoring systems. And the 2 German sites are a pain in the neck to browse. But they are a good way of finding reviews of albums or labels ignored by the English-language review sites/publications.
So, Classics Today. It's hampered somewhat by the rather small number of reviewers - pick something at random, and it'll probably have David Hurwitz or David Vernier's name on it. And it doesn't review nearly as many discs as MusicWeb. And they're a little too generous with their 10/10 accolades. But that 10/10 has its own logo, which record companies are more than happy to slap on ads and CD boxes. And, importantly, it's got a very useful search function. So even though it's not a top choice among all the review sources I regularly consult, it's always a go-to site when I'm looking for older releases.
If MusicWeb International had Classics Today's search facility it would be awesome. Well, the web site generally could do with a makeover. But it covers a good range of music, and it has some very useful features, such as Tony Duggan's survey of Mahler symphonies. Some of the reviews are very thorough, occasionally with useful links to help you explore lesser-known composers, notably British ones. What comes through most obviously on MusicWeb is its reviewers' enthusiasm for what they're doing - something the site shares with Fanfare. I like, too, MusicWeb's Recordings of the Month concept - you're always guaranteed to come across an album you wouldn't otherwise have considered (I think International Record Review is trying for something similar with its Outstanding yokey, but it isn't quite as successful). But one black mark against MusicWeb is that it rarely reviews Harmonia Mundi releases. I don't know why that might be.

One other site that must be mentioned is Classical Digest, which you absolutely must visit if you're comparing recordings to decide which to buy. Basically these guys have gone through a bunch of review sources, online and print, including the Penguin Guide, and catalogued and collated all the recordings to give you an overview, or digest if you will, of the various recordings of a given work. It's not perfect, but it's very useful.

Science question of the day

"Daddy, would a dog chase a stick insect?"

Sunday, May 30, 2010

What might be right for you may not be right for some...

Which reviews? (American edition)

The most immediately significant thing about American Record Guide and Fanfare is their ability to provoke a semantic argument with a child. As in:
Parent: Please stop climbing on my head, I'm trying to read my magazine.
Child: That's not a magazine! It's a book!
Parent retires to other room, completely pwned.
Does it say something about the US that it can't produce an indigenous glossy high-street magazine devoted to classical music? Maybe. But when you come across ARG and Fanfare on the shelves they look very much out of place, short, tubby, little things that only a serious record collector could love. Sizewise, the two are similar, and they both come out 6 times a year, and they each have roughly four hundred reviews per issue, but otherwise they're very different.
For a start, Fanfare has embraced the Internet, whereas the relationship between ARG and the web is something like the relationship between Sam Gamgee and Gollum. You can get a web-only subscription to Fanfare, and the print or web subscription comes with access to the Fanfare Archives, an eminently browsable resource that contains all the reviews going back to 1998 (so far). ARG will let you have a PDF of the current print issue if you're a subscriber. Hallmarks of different editors, I suppose; although you see little of Fanfare's founder/editor Joel Flegler, ARG's Donald Vroon is a palpable presence in his magazine. There's no editorial column in Fanfare, but Vroon treats us to "Critical Convictions" each issue. The last one began "It struck me recently that all those inane cell-phone "conversations" are really narcissistic monologs", pivoted to a reflection on why religious fundamentalists keep getting involved in sex scandals, and ended with a diatribe against current airport security practices. He's a grumpy oul bollix but it's all very entertaining.
Unfortunately this sort of grumpiness occasionally extends to reviews. I don't know why Vroon keeps reviewing Thomas Fey's series of Haydn symphonies, for instance, because he hates everything about it. ARG doesn't mince words if it doesn't like an album, unlike the more polite British reviewers; some might consider this a virtue but occasionally a review is so dismissively short as to be worthless (and if other reviewers elsewhere have praised the disc, you might feel inclined to just dismiss ARG's opinion altogether). Fanfare, at least, is thorough when being negative. Another problem I see occasionally with ARG is the "descriptive review" - we're told what the music is but sometimes the reviewer fails to mention whether he or she actually liked it. I find, too, with Fanfare that more of the reviewers' personalities shine through - there's more reference to their previous reviews or previously stated likes or prejudices, and even just a simple thing like the reviewer's full name rather than surname appearing at the end of the review reduces the gap between writer and reader; plus Fanfare has a (sometimes very pedantic) letters page in which the critics are very much kept on their toes, and a Critics' Corner where they get to have a go at each other.
When it comes down to it, I prefer Fanfare to ARG, but I'd say both are essential, or as essential as a review magazine can ever be. Their coverage of American music and labels is (obviously) better than the UK magazines; they manage to avoid the parochialism that can sometimes infect the Brits; and, best of all, they give plenty of space to smaller labels, less-well-known composers and repertoire, and newer music.

But Nereffid! I hear you whisper. I don't want to have to pay to read reviews!
Good grief. There may be another post in this series.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Which reviews?

I was a little harsh on Gramophone in that last post. I look forward to getting it each month, as I do with the other review magazines. But then that's my thing, reading the reviews. I can no longer imagine what it would be like to rely on only one source for pointers as to which new releases I should be getting. As I've remarked before, individual critics are easy to dismiss, but collectively they're valuable. A disc getting a Gramophone Editor's Choice won't necessarily make me interested; if it also gets a rave from American Record Guide, say, then I'll take serious notice (and vice versa, of course). So I still get Gramophone, even though on one level there isn't much need to do so. Can I say the same for the other sources?
BBC Music Magazine is basically Gramophone but with fewer reviewers who remember Tito Schipa in his prime (/joke). A key difference is who exactly the magazine's pitched at; Gramophone's readers' brows are a little higher I suppose. BBCMM's not afraid to have a Composer of the Month feature, whereas Gramophone sort of assumes you know all about these composers already. Or, to put it another way, Gramophone's "Collection" feature involves a thorough going-over of every available recording, whereas BBCMM's "Building a Library" sort of assumes you don't give a monkeys about every single one and just cuts to the chase with a handful of recommendations. Or, finally, BBCMM is happy to give you a free recording of Tchaikovsky's Capriccio Italien, while Gramophone's more likely to give you an article in which 2 esteemed critics debate whether Tchaikovsky's lighter music needs special pleading ("Tchaikovsky: was he a tortured genius, or just an old poof who wrote tunes?" as the Pythons had it). BBCMM's reviews are a bit shorter than Gramophone's, and I get the impression (not empirically tested) that the former are more inclined to be dismissive of a disc - although this might be just a consequence of BBCMM reviewers being obliged to give marks out of 5. Two stars is a starker condemnation than "overall, the bad outweighs the good".
But wait a second, I've previously remarked about how Gramophone's reviews are not as long as they used to be, and now here's BBCMM with even shorter reviews. What to do?! This is where International Record Review comes in. This is "for the serious classical collector" and is aimed directly at people who think Gramophone's gone to the dogs. There's pretty much nothing but reviews, aside from the occasional obituary, maybe some letters, and the last-page feature "Too many records". There aren't many pictures or ads either. In other words, they waste hardly any space. The "International" is something of a misnomer though; it has a British feel and focus. And I've mentioned before how their "Outstanding" accolade seems arbitrarily applied (or I should say, arbitrarily not applied). But this is the UK publication you need if you want reviews.

But how does IRR compare with the American magazines? Find out in the next thrilling episode!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The thing about Gramophone

"250 GREATEST RECORDINGS OF ALL TIME", the latest issue of Gramophone trumpets across its picture-free front cover. Well, it must be important, if they've foregone a cover with Vassily Petrenko, who's featured inside. But of course it isn't important. "35 of the world's leading musicians" chose these 250 recordings. It's a nice thought, that people like Marc-André Hamelin, Harry Christophers, and Anne Sofie von Otter all sat in a room for a weekend to produce a finely honed document that can serve as a "ready-selected classical music collection". Except of course it didn't happen that way. What we've got, basically, are 35 "desert island" lists all mashed up into one big one. Sidebars give us the specific choices of just 4 of the musicians, with some sort of explanation as to why these particular recordings were selected. But otherwise it's just a list of 250 recordings that are loved by at least one person who isn't a music critic.
People who've been reading Gramophone for a lot longer than I have, and indeed for a lot longer than I have been alive, will level various criticisms at the magazine - the reviews are too short these days, and the audio section used to be so much better (it had graphs!). But this latest stunt typifies for me where Gramophone's gone wrong. International Record Review says on its cover it's "for the serious classical collector"; Fanfare, too, is "the magazine for serious record collectors". Although Gramophone likes to say it's got "the world's best classical music reviews" this is just wishful thinking based on a long-held reputation, and the magazine's much too keen to resort to hype - it seems like the word "great" must appear somewhere on the cover.
I suppose there just isn't a market anymore for a serious review magazine that wants to stay mainstream. The thing about Gramophone is, if it didn't exist, would it be necessary to invent it? Reputation aside, the answer has to be no, largely because of the existence of BBC Music Magazine, upon whose general style Gramophone has been gradually converging in recent years.
Anyway, next issue is the Proms issue, to be guest-edited by a mystery guest. It's so exciting!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Everyone Draw Mohammed

We interrupt our regular programming for a clash of civilisations...
Everyone Draw Mohammed

Here at Les Introuvables de Nereffid we have enlisted some young children. "But I don't know what he looks like!" protested the four-year-old, which I think rather cuts to the nub of the whole issue. You will notice, also, that the seven-year-old has hedged his bets somewhat by not being able to spell the name of his subject.

(Those aren't wings, by the way. She seems to have depicted the prophet as a Fat-Handed Twat.)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I know where the bodies are buried

Over on the eMusic boards the other day, baroque fan Kez said "Nereffid, in particular, I consider to be a sort of 'expert' here when it comes to classical music", to which I replied "I am not an expert. But I have a good idea where the bodies are buried."
What I meant by this was that there's a difference between knowledge and wisdom. I've never set myself up as an expert in the way I understand it - the sort who could, say, distinguish Celibidache's Bruckner from Giulini's in the space of five bars, or who can make a statement about who is the best Tosca and have the chops to back it up. My own understanding doesn't run that deep, and as far as I'm aware I've never claimed anything of the sort. But occasionally someone will come along and call me an expert and I wonder whether I've been misleading them.
It's something I noticed years ago, when the ability to read the user manual for Microsoft Access made me somehow god-like in the eyes of superiors who didn't know better. The trick, I realised, is not necessarily to know more than anyone else, but to know where you can find the knowledge you need, and deploy that knowledge as required.
And so with music. There wasn't anything I did on the old Nereffid's Guide that couldn't have been done as well or better by someone with an equal amount of time on their hands. Whenever people asked - they still do, though not as often - on eMusic for the best, say, Mozart clarinet concerto, I've always been tempted to reply "Look online. There's like a half-dozen places a Google search away that will give you expert opinions that will allow you to make your own decision". But instead I do the leg-work and come up with a couple of suggestions. Do it enough times, and you get called an expert.
Hopefully this blog will by now have disabused everyone of that notion.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

I am sitting in a room

A man walks into a room, sits in front of a microphone and says the following: "I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of rhythm, is destroyed. What you will hear, then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but more as a way to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have."
Then he does what he says he would: he plays back the recording of his voice, and records this. Then he plays back that recording, and records it. And so on. Composer and sound experimenter Alvin Lucier's I am Sitting in a Room consists of 32 sequential recordings of the words quoted in the above paragraph, each repetition being less like a human voice and more like a series of ringing tones as "the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves". The version I listened to was recorded by Lucier in his living room in October 1980, and is on Lovely Music. It lasts about three quarters of an hour.
There are some works of experimental art where you just know that simply reading the concept of the experiment will be a vastly more rewarding experience than actually sitting through it. Andy Warhol's 8-hour slow-motion film of the Empire State Building springs to mind. (Perhaps we could establish a big arts prize along the lines of the Turner, but where entrants simply have to submit a 100-word proposal rather than an actual work of art. All the controversy, none of the expense!) But I am Sitting in a Room is definitely one to experience. I was skeptical about whether I'd last the distance, and the first couple of repetitions just seem to have a slightly distorting hum, but the feedback becomes quite strong rather quickly, and it's fascinating listening to the voice disintegrate. After about 15 minutes, the voice is almost unrecognizable, but the rhythm of Lucier's speech remains; the overall effect is rather like an old-style Cylon with its head in a big bell (and who wouldn't pay to see that??). You still can detect a trace of the "irregularities" - a pronounced stutter on a few of the words - though now they're a feature rather than a bug, so to speak. By the end, the overall effect is something like the mysterious throbbing of a giant machine or ghostly noises from the deep ocean. But more significantly, what started out as speech has been transformed into what modern ears are happy to accept as music. In fact you might even start to wonder what would happen if the work went on for another 45 minutes; perhaps some other simple transformation might gradually turn these resonances into something approaching Bach...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lost in music

From Alex Ross, a brief look at Michael Giacchino's music in Lost:


Starkenfreude (n.) The pleasure associated with discovering, in an otherwise wholly uninteresting book sale, a hard-to-find novel by Richard Stark. And only €1.50, too!

(Also, I suppose, The pleasure associated with discovering that any given Iron Man movie is better than you thought it was going to be)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Handel on eMusic

File under "Just when I thought I was out..."

In early 2009, back when there used to be a Nereffid's Guide, I celebrated Handel Year by putting together a pretty darn thorough review digest for the Handel recordings available on eMusic. Now, in a hopefully not vain (in both senses of the word) attempt to support eMusic board regulars Kez and 1653 in their efforts to get a good Baroque Music thread going, I've revived Nereffid's Guide to Handel.
This guide will not be updated. Ever! It's a year out of date, if you're in the US then the information on number of tracks is often irrelevant, and none of the links to Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine reviews work any more (they've both changed their web sites), and I'm not going to fix them. I've just copied-and-pasted from the original file. That said, if anyone wants to contribute new information, comments are open.

The original introduction to the guide follows:

These are not all the Handel recordings on emusic! But I've tried to track down reviews of as many as I could. I've confined myself to albums where Handel is the sole composer, or occupies a large portion of the album. I've provided as many web links as I can, but some sites require that you are registered or (in the case of Fanfare) a subscriber. References to the Penguin Guide are specifically the 2005/6 edition and 2006/7 yearbook.

The works follow the same genre order as the list of works in the New Grove Dictionary, although within each genre I've gone with alphabetical order rather than date of composition. Discs of orchestral excerpts from operas and oratorios have been placed in the orchestral section. Pasticcios ("new" oratorios compiled by others after Handel's death) are included with the regular oratorios.

As usual, entries are of the form Work - Artists - Label - Number of tracks.

Warning: where there are multiple recordings of one work, I've tried to include comparisons made by reviewers, but this isn't always possible, or comprehensive. So if a reviewer says "this is the best recording", bear in mind that a handful of other recordings could have been made since that review was written.

I've split the one original file into separate blog posts:
Sacred vocal
Secular cantatas

(Or click on the "Handel on eMusic" label at the bottom of the post to get all posts)

Handel on eMusic: Opera


Operas and related works

Agrippina. Véronique Gens, etc; Le Grande Ecurie et la Chambre du Roy/Jean-Claude Malgoire [Dynamic] 82.

Gramophone said "Malgoire’s grasp on Handelian drama has improved since his CBS recordings made in the 1970s... But this live performance is scrappy, and there are problems... The singing is better here than on some Dynamic recordings, but there [are] uncomfortable moments... The impressive singing of high countertenor Philippe Jaroussky outclasses any previous Nero on disc". Fanfare reviewed the DVD version; irrelevant to us is the "stupefying vulgarity, silliness, and superficiality of the production". Comparing the musical performance with that of John Eliot Gardiner's recording on Philips, the reviewer has good things to say about the cast but says "The only case where Dynamic clearly carries off the palm is in the alto role of Nero". The reviewer doesn't compare Malgoire with McGegan, although he does say of McGegan's recording, "good as it is, Gardiner’s version seems to me broadly preferable". Classics Today gave it 8/7, saying "The cast is excellent, with a few standouts... Malgoire's leadership is bright and perky, with the recits paced conversationally, and his band plays well--the winds are particularly spicy". Classics Today France gave it 7/6.

Agrippina. Sally Bradshaw, etc; Capella Savaria/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 69.

Not liked by Gramophone : "I have to admit that by the end of the opera—or indeed considerably sooner than that—I wearied of the insouciance, the detachment, the want of real feeling expressed through the music. There is little atmosphere, little sense of character, little sense of anything other than an intellectual game with human emotion, and I can't believe that is what Handel intended".

Amadigi di Gaula. Maria Riccarda Wesseling, etc; Al Ayre Español/Eduardo Lopez Banzo [Ambroisie] 67.

One of Fanfare's reviewers said "You could probably listen to 30 or more Handel operas before you found one that was different from most of the rest... I have concluded that it’s quite possible that Handel really didn’t like or understand the genre of opera". She has complaints about some of the singers and the orchestral sound; nevertheless, "Since there appears to be no other recording of this opera available, it is strongly recommended for its musical quality in spite of the misgivings cited above". Another said "Al Ayre Español is a bright, slightly edgy ensemble, precise in its intonation and sharp in its attacks... I wish that so seldom performed a Handel opera as Amadigi had a better all around cast". MusicWeb said "If you’re happy to give it a go, though, you certainly won’t be disappointed because the performance is very strong". Gramophone didn't hold back: "the performance is dreadful... abrasive and ugly playing... The singers are uniformly average... This performance is devoid of affection and utterly lacking in good judgement". And yet it got full marks from BBC Music and was that month's Opera Choice: "I doubt very much if readers will be disappointed either by the singing and sympathetic instrumental playing, or by Handel’s consistently beguiling, often sensuous music".

Ariodante. Lorraine Hunt, etc; Freiburger Barockorchester/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 89.

Gramophone called this "A fine set, which I recommend very warmly", while BBC Music gave it 4-5 and said it is "a very welcome addition to an outstanding series". gave it 4-5-4. Reviewing a reissue of this in 2007, American Record Guide rated it highly, saying in comparison to other recordings "McGegan and his cast convey a more direct theatrical feeling of baroque lyric drama".

Atalanta. Dominique Labelle, etc; Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan [Magnatune] 54.

Disc 2 is here. No reviews found.

Deidamia. Julianne Baird, etc; Brewer Chamber Orchestra/Edward Brewer [Albany] 65.

Mixed reviews. The Fanfare reviewer heard "a cast of remarkably high and well-matched qualities" and said it "deserves to be snapped up by anyone with a taste for Handel's superb and too long neglected operas", whereas Nicholas Anderson in BBC Music said of Act 1 in particular, "disappointing performances from all the soloists accompanied by thin and scrawny period-instrument string-playing" (score 2/5 for performance, 3/5 for sound). Stanley Sadie praised it in Gramophone, saying "I am glad to have this first CD recording of the work". On , it gets 5/10: "The cast is vocally average but all the singers are quite involved in their characters... As with most of the previous releases in this series, the Brewer Chamber Orchestra provides an efficient yet underpowered accompaniment."

Ezio. D'Anna Fortunato, etc; Manhattan Chamber Orchestra/Richard Auldon Clark [Vox] 56.

No reviews found.

Faramondo. Julianne Baird, etc; Brewer Chamber Orchestra/Rudolph Palmer [Vox] 56.

"The singing itself is more creditable than the casting is credible", according to Gramophone; "Palmer conducts judiciously, avoiding extremes of tempo yet not running into dullness. The period instruments are played agreeably... A better version may come along one day, but the fine score deserves a hearing now". gave it 6, saying "As is often the case in recordings of Handel operas produced by John Ostendorf, there are several unfortunate cuts - quite important in the recitatives in this work - but the singers are totally involved in their parts and definitely try to express something with both music and text, even if not always vocally at ease". MusicWeb reviewed it when it became part of a Brilliant Classics set of Handel, saying "This is by no means a perfect recording. But the Brewer Chamber Orchestra play stylishly and Rudolph Palmer’s tempi are crisp and well chosen. Despite their technical limitations, the cast believe in the opera and use Handel’s wonderful vocal lines to create character".

Flavio. Jeffrey Gall, etc; Ensemble 415/René Jacobs [Harmonia Mundi] 27.

"Flavio is possibly the most delectable of all Handel's operas", said Gramophone ; this recording is one of "the finest ever made of Handel operas and I am happy to be able to recommend it almost unreservedly". Classics Today gave it 9/9 and said "this performance is dynamite". Penguin Guide gave it *** - "vividly captures the consistent vigour of Handel's inspiration".

Giulio Cesare. David Sabella, etc; Virginia Opera/Peter Mark [Koch] 55. (disc 2 is here)

BBC Music gave it a rare 1 out of 5 performance, and 3 for sound: "My chief complaint against this recording is that it cuts nearly 90 minutes from one of Handel’s greatest operas... To make matters worse, the performances are extremely lacklustre... this travesty would be better forgotten". In a Gramophone Collection article on the opera, the reviewer said "This is full of spectacularly awful things, from its mechanical overture to routinely insipid arias. Some of the singing, including that of three countertenors, is not entirely bad, but the orchestra's grasp on rhythm is so sluggish that I felt somebody needed to jump out and push it up the hill".

Giulio Cesare. Martine Dupuy, etc; Orchestra Pro Arte Bassano/Marcello Panni [Nuova Era] 53.

In a Gramophone Collection article on this opera, the reviewer said "Panni's conducting is sensible and sympathetic and he is a more natural Handelian than some recent so-called specialists, but this is an unreliable performance full of technical weaknesses".

Giulio Cesare - highlights. Jennifer Larmore, etc; Concerto Koln/René Jacobs [Harmonia Mundi] 15.

The full recording won a Gramophone Award; the original review said "The great strength of this recording is that it treats the work as a live piece of musical drama, in which everyone is involved at an intense level from beginning to end. Rene Jacobs... seems totally in command and with a clear view of the piece and how it functions. I don't always agree with the view, but it is a powerful and persuasive one... The cast has no weaknesses and many strengths". MusicWeb said "This is a first choice for Giulio Cesare and high praise is deserved by the soloists, orchestra, by Jacobs himself and by Harmonia Mundi", while Classics Today said "Jacobs' cast and interpretive outlook turn the opera into the drama it should be, and no one who cares about Baroque opera should do without this set" (giving it 9/9). The full opera got *** and a key symbol from Penguin Guide.

Julius Caesar (ie, Giulio Cesare sung in English). Janet Baker, etc; English National Opera/Charles Mackerras [Chandos] 58.

A 26-track highlights album is also available. "As a total production, Julius Caesar was an outstanding achievement in the company’s history", said Gramophone, calling it "a gramophone classic". The highlights disc was strongly recommended by MusicWeb: "Those who insist on hearing Handel’s operas sung in Italian and played on period instruments may pass by this CD. That would be a great pity for it gives a very good representation of a supreme Handelian in a major role. If you value distinguished, stylish and dramatic singing and conducting of Handel then you should add this disc to your collection without delay". Also reviewing the highlights, Fanfare said "The singing and conducting, indeed, by Dame Janet and her ENO colleagues and by that expert Handelian, Sir Charles Mackerras, are for the most part as masterful as you would expect, and the recorded sound is excellent. But in the end, Julius Caesar is a mere shadow of Giulio Cesare". Penguin Guide gave the complete set *** - "one of the very finest of the invaluable series of ENO opera recordings in English".

Giulio Cesare - sung in German. Walter Berry, etc; Munic Philharmonic Orchestra/Ferdinand Leitner [Opera d'Oro] 60.

A performance from 1965, taken from a radio broadcast. Reviewing its issue on the Orfeo d'Or label, Gramophone said "There is much to enjoy" and recommended René Jacobs' recording "if the opera itself, rather than its singers, is the prime object of interest".

Giustino. Michael Chance, etc; Freiburger Barockorchester/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 74.

"The work happens to be particularly well suited to Nicholas McGegan's interpretative approach... The singing... is stylish and assured though vocally not consistently distinguished" - Gramophone. "McGegan coaxes a stylish performance from the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra", and Michael Chance is "outstanding" - BBC Music (4-4). Penguin Guide gave it *** - "this is a set to delight all Handelians".

Imeneo. John Ostendorf, etc; Brewer Chamber Orchestra/Rudolph Palmer [Vox] 12.

"Whilst there is nothing exceptional in this interpretation, it is never boring and there are some nice moments from almost all the soloists", said; "This recording could be a nice way to discover this opera, even if it is entirely unsatisfying from a musicological point of view... We are used to extensive cuts in Ostendorf’s productions but in this one there is something yet more extraordinary: Ostendorf himself sings Imeneo, and his concept of the title role includes three arias (one of them from the 1742 Dublin version) who should be sung by other characters with different registers" (it scored 5 out of 10). Gramophone said it "takes us back to the bad old days when musicians felt they didn't need to respect a composer's text... And the orchestral playing often sounds under-rehearsed—though Rudolph Palmer anyway seems unable to bring much natural flow to the rhythms. In spite of all that, there is quite a lot to enjoy, especially in the really lovely singing of Julianne Baird". MusicWeb, reviewing it when it was reissued as part of a Brilliant Classics set, was more conciliatory: "if you simply leave your musicological hat to one side, then this recording is very enjoyable".

Ottone. Drew Minter, etc; Freiburger Barockorchester/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 71.

Scored 5-5 from BBC Music; comparing it with Robert King's recording on Hyperion, the reviewer said "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". Gramophone was less impressed: "Minter sings diligently and musically, but I do find his countertenor wanting in clarity and incisiveness... McGegan's direction, with the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra is less mannered here than in some of his recent Handel recordings... the set adequately fills a significant gap in the Handel opera repertory". (In a subsequent review of the King recording, the same reviewer - Stanley Sadie - said "the cast here is marginally preferable to McGegan's... Neither conductor seems to me fully idiomatic; McGegan is the more dramatic but his set is the more flawed by sins of commission than King's is by those of omission").

Partenope. Rosemary Joshua, etc; Early Opera Company/Christian Curnyn [Chandos] 87.

This was "not a highly regarded work in its day" but it is "one of its composer’s more interesting dramatic creations", notes Gramophone, which says "Curnyn conducts a highly competent performance thoroughly in the groove of modern Handelian style, with a cast that has no vocal weaknesses and many dramatic virtues". Fanfare was less impressed, though: "There is a general feeling of caution, the impression that the performance is feeling its way... Curnyn’s Partenope is by no means poor. It provides a more than acceptable account of one of Handel’s most unjustly neglected and appealing operas, and as such is worthy of investigation by Handelians". BBC Music gave it 4-5: "Curnyn is not always the most theatrical of conductors; and on occasion – say, in the trio and quartet – the music can jog where it should fizz. But the orchestral playing is neat and graceful, and the cast without any weak links". It got a 7 from " would tend to say there is nothing exceptional in this new recording under Christian Curnyn, but pleasure and interest are there and both the execution and the interpretation are of a consistent high standard". Penguin Guide gave it *** - "Central to the success of Christian Curnyn's well-paced performance is the glorious singing of Rosemary Joshua in the title-role".

Radamisto. Ralf Popken, etc; Freiburger Barockorchester/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 71.

Praise from Gramophone: "as compelling as any Handel opera performance I have heard... an excellent cast... The playing of the Freiburg orchestra is first-rate, though one might have wished for a rather larger body of strings". BBC Music gave it 4-5: "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... With two exceptions [Popken and Gondek], the cast is acceptable rather than outstanding".

Rinaldo. Kimberley Barber, etc; Opera In Concert; Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon [Naxos] 48.

This gets 8/8 from Classics Today, which says "If it weren't for the two other complete ... and quite superb recordings of this juicy, thrilling opera... this new, inexpensive set, as performed by the Canadian group Opera in Concert, would be greeted wildly. As it is, it has plenty to recommend it despite the star power of its competition". Gramophone says "there is little of the dynamic precociousness that abounds in Handel’s music. The Aradia Ensemble are active and astute enough but just sound a bit too far away. There is often a reverberant wash over the sound, so that over the course of three acts the churchy acoustic imposes itself as the opera’s dominant personality". Fanfare is not impressed: "I’ve had plenty of good things to say about the Kevin Mallon discs that have to date come my way, but despite the obvious integrity of the performance, there’s little here to praise, I’m afraid". Neither is MusicWeb: "Handel enthusiasts might want to have it, for completeness sake if you don’t have the opera already. But if you are unfamiliar with Handel’s opera seria, then I would not advise buying it; save up and get a better recording". Penguin Guide gave it **(*) - "totally refreshing".

Rinaldo. Marilyn Horne, etc; Teatro la Fenice, Venice/John Fisher [Nuova Era] 50.

A live recording from 1989. "neither in style nor in technical accomplishment does it reach an acceptable level", according to Gramophone. "I won't say this is the worst Handel opera set I have ever heard, but it must be one of the weakest for a long time".

Rodelinda. Joan Sutherland, etc; Philomusica Orchestra/Charles Farncombe [Opera d'Oro] 31.

Rodelinda. Joan Sutherland, etc; Philomusica Orchestra/Charles Farncombe [Living Stage] 31.

These are both of the same live recording from 1959. Classics Today reviewed the Living Stage issue and gave it 7/6: "an interesting pre-authentic performance... the spirit of Handel is present--and besides that, fans of either Sutherland or Janet Baker, both caught here so early in their careers that they were not even vaguely famous, will have to hear them".

Rodelinde (1930s German version!) plus suite from Alcina and other things. Chor und Orchester des Reichssenders Stuttgart/Carl Leonhardt [Haenssler] 31.

As MusicWeb puts it, "This is not a complete recording in any sense, nor is it even slightly authentic... it represents a historical document of how Handel’s music was performed some seventy years ago". Fanfare says "In the face of such wanton distortion of content and style, it becomes easy to understand why, 60 years ago, Handel opera was widely regarded as a more or less trivial art form". Both this reviewer and Gramophone's draw attention to the lyric baritone Gerhard Husch. In a 3/5 review, Classics Today says "It's well sung for what it is; Handel would wonder who wrote it".'s reviewer said "For today’s listeners, this recording sounds rather like an aberration. Yet it is a fascinating testimony to the revival of Handel’s music belonging to a tradition which lasted several dozens of years. It is impossible to grade these performances using our regular criteria, yet they will certainly be of value to those interested in historic recordings". Of the extra tracks, Gramophone says "These pages of musical history might better have been left unturned".

Serse. Luigi Alva, etc; Orchestra of La Scala, Milan/Piero Bellugi [Opera d'Oro] 24.

A live performance from 1962. No reviews found.

Sosarme. Alfred Deller, etc; Saint Cecilia Orchestra/Anthony Lewis [Opera d'Oro] 36.

This 1955 recording was first released by L'Oiseau-Lyre. The Gramophone review at the time said "From a purely musical point of view, the handling of the work is safe and even tasteful in a rather negative way... However, gratitude to have this rare work on disc ought to outweigh other reactions. I had much pleasure from it". I love this: "Mr. Deller's performance is highly intelligent and musically satisfying, with a steady intonation... Nevertheless in the counter tenor voice it is difficult not to hear suggestions of the Tyrolese yodel and though Mr. Deller avoids yodelling even in florid passages which might tempt him, the thought remains teasingly present that he could if he would". The Gramophone review helpfully includes the price: 109 shillings and 4 1/2 pence, which works out at about £95/$138/€101 in today's money. So 36 tracks on emusic isn't so bad. When Andromeda reissued it in 2006, MusicWeb said "all in all this is one for the specialist – in Deller, and in historic operatic performances generally".

Tamerlano. Thomas Randle, etc; The English Concert/Trevor Pinnock [Avie] 69.

Not well received by everyone, but some good reviews. gave it 7, saying "generally a positive and predictably sensible yet rich musical experience... Like its predecessors, this is not the Tamerlano that Handel deserves. But it is an interesting and valuable contribution to the catalogue". It was generally praised by Gramophone, although not the reviewer's top choice (that's Gardiner). BBC Music gave it 3 for performance, 4 for sound: "There’s a serious problem with the singers, of whom only countertenor Graham Pushee (Andronico) sounds completely at ease" ( had praised tenor Thomas Randle (Bazajet)). Fanfare's Brian Robins also didn't like the singing, and said the opera is "still without a recording worthy of its stature", whereas in the same issue Bernard Jacobson was impressed by several of the singers and described it as "a praiseworthy undertaking". Classics Today said 8/8, saying the recording "presents this opera better than any competition on CD, and probably as well as we'll hear it any time soon". International Record Review said "musically this is the strongest recording of Tamerlano to date". And finally MusicWeb: "This is a fine recording of one of Handel’s finest operas. While the singers could be a bit more baroque in sensitivity, this is a great work, one that has not been recorded much, and which deserves to be discovered or rediscovered through this fine set". Penguin Guide gave it **(*), but *** for the DVD version - "The DVD performance is totally gripping throughout, whereas on CD the stage noises tend to be obtrusive".

Tamerlano. Gwendolyn Killebrew, etc; Chamber Orchestra of Copenhagen/John Moriarty [Parnassus] 56.

This 1970 recording scored 6 out of 10 from when it appeared on CD: "more than thirty years later, the orchestra sounds very industrious but quite old-fashioned, with particularly slow tempos – the overture sounds so torpid! The vocal performances are less dated, and, despite often being erratic, all singers contribute some good or excellent moments". Classics Today was more impressed, giving it 9/7 and remarking "This may just beat out Avie's for top place among recorded versions of this work". MusicWeb called it "a consistently well sung and splendidly astute set that still glitters with imagination and insight". Fanfare said "The sound is more vivid and colorful than ever, though period-instrument aficionados may find the Copenhagen orchestra’s playing too large-scale for their taste. I am as positively impressed as before by Moriarty’s musical and stylistic judgement"; the cast are described as excellent.

Tolomeo. Jennifer Lane, etc; Manhattan Chamber Orchestra/Richard Auldon Clark [Vox] 57.

No reviews found.

"Arias" - from Ariodante, Joseph & his Brethren, Rinaldo, Siroe, Il Parnasso in Festa, Muzio Scevola, Ottone, Joshua, and Semele. Julianne Baird (soprano); Brewer Chamber Orchestra/Rudolph Palmer [Newport Classic] 15.

No reviews found.

Arias from Giulio Cesare, Serse, Alcina, and Ariodante. Ann Murray (mezzo); Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Charles Mackerras [] 12.

Originally released on Forlane. Gramophone generally praised it (go to page 3 of this), while BBC Music gave it 3-4, saying "overall I can’t help feeling that Handel’s great music should sound more dynamic and engaging than it does on this disc".

Arias from Theodora and Serse; also the Italian cantata La Lucrezia. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson (mezzo); Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Harry Bicket [Avie] 20.

"An exceptional disc", according to BBC Music (top marks); Classics Today gave it 9/9. It was a MusicWeb Recording of the Month for July 2004 ("one of the finest vocal recordings in any voice I’ve ever heard"), although another reviewer said it "shows off the singer's vocal consistency better than her powers of characterisation". Fanfare reviewers were less impressed: "for the first half of the disc, my impression on first hearing was of truly superb singing... Gradually, however, and increasingly with repeated listening, this pleasure began to be overshadowed by a sense of unrelieved heaviness, indeed portentousness, in the whole proceedings" (Bernard Jacobson, who admits to not being Hunt Lieberson's greatest fan); Brian Robins says "I think this is probably a disc to be heard by all lovers of vocal art. You will either adore it, or, like me, find a fair amount of what you hear open to quite severe criticism". Finally, gave it a 9: "There might be some who find this level of intensity somehow un-Handelian, and if they prefer a more emotionally contained approach, there are plenty of alternative recordings for this repertoire... Compared to Hunt Lieberson’s all out emotional commitment, combined with her musical sensitivity, however, they all sound rather pallid."

"Arias and dances" - mostly orchestral excerpts from Alcina and Agrippina. Karina Gauvin (soprano); Tafelmusik/Jeanne Lamon [Analekta] 22.

No reviews found, although the album was nominated for Best Classical Album (Large Ensemble) in Canada's Juno Awards of 2000. (FWIW, here's a Wikipedia link)

"Arias for Cuzzoni". Lisa Saffer (soprano); Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 12.

"Saffer is a confident, whole-hearted singer, at her best in the exuberant arias where her bright, hard timbre and fearless gusto can be quite thrilling. In the more expressive numbers, on the other hand, it can seem rather colourless... these are in the main enthusiastic and invigorating performances of great music that no Handelian can afford to miss" - Gramophone.

"Arias for Durastanti". Lorraine Hunt (mezzo); Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 13.

"The predominance of male and heroic roles in [Durastanti's] repertory... does rather suggest a sturdy and focused voice of some power, as indeed does the style of much of her music. Lorraine Hunt's singing, often beautiful and refined, seems to me at almost the opposite pole: her strengths lie in her singing of expressive and gentle music, in the delicacy of her phrasing" - Gramophone.

"Arias for Senesino". Drew Minter (countertenor); Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 11.

Gramophone says "In the slow, expressive music he is quite convincing... What I find lacking in Minter's voice is a really firm focus. The tone is sweet and smooth, but a little soft-centred".

"As steals the morn". Mark Padmore (tenor); The English Concert/Andrew Manze [Harmonia Mundi] 18.

See below, under Odes, Oratorios, etc.

"Endless pleasure" - arias from Atalanta, Guilio Cesare, Semele; Terpsichore from Il Pastor fido; plus music by Purcell. Barbara Hendricks (soprano); Drottningholm Baroque Ensemble [Arte Verum] 23.

Gramophone was brutal: "some may find [the title] ironic... I cannot envisage an opportunity to play this disc again, except perhaps next Halloween". BBC Music was friendlier, giving it 3-2 and saying "her voice, though mature, remains rich and lovely... Some of the pieces would have suited Hendricks better when younger". But American Record Guide said "listening to this has been one of the few irritating review experiences I have had in recent years. There are so many fine programs of Purcell songs and Handel arias these days that this release is just not to be taken seriously".

"Heroes and Heroines" - music from Alcina, Solomon, Ariodante, and Hercules. Sarah Connolly (mezzo); The Symphony of Harmony and Invention/Harry Christophers [Coro] 13.

"top-of-the-range Handel singing", according to BBC Music, which gave it full marks. Fanfare concurred: "This is a treasurable release, not to be missed by any lover of great singing". Gramophone said "Connolly is an exemplary Handel singer", while said "it is for Connolly’s passion and commitment to the music that I have no hesitation in thoroughly recommending this disc. It is the most successful recital I have heard for many a year", giving it 9 out of 10. It also got 10/10 from both Classics Today and Classics Today France.

"Love duets" - music from Rinaldo, Giulio Cesare, Tolomeo, Rodelinda, and Serse, plus the overture HWV337. Suzie LeBlanc (soprano); Daniel Taylor (countertenor); Arion/Stephen Stubbs [Atma] 14.

Scored 9 from ("those who are already admirers of Taylor and LeBlanc will need little convincing of this disc’s many treasures"), and 7/8 from Classics Today ("a slim, unexciting, but generally appealing experience"). Fanfare praises the singers and calls the disc "delightful".

"Ombra mai fu" - arias and instrumental music from Giulio Cesare, Admeto, Radamisto, Rodelinda, Serse, and Alcina; Concerto grosso from Alexander's Feast. Andreas Scholl (countertenor); Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin [Harmonia Mundi] 24.

This got a positive review from Gramophone, which said "the sheer opulence of tone impresses afresh". BBC Music gave it full marks, saying this is "Scholl at his inimitable best: superbly accomplished and fully inside each character in turn". Fanfare described it as "a program planned with rare intelligence" with "magnificent orchestral playing throughout"; this is "a recital that not only triumphantly shows why Scholl's glorious voice has justifiably made him the first countertenor superstar, but equally reveals him to be undeniably the possessor of formidable dramatic gifts". It got a Rosette from the Penguin Guide - "indispensable".

"Opera arias and cantatas" - arias from Giulio Cesare, Rinaldo, and Alcina; Tra le fiamme; No se emendara jamas. Maria Bayo (soprano); Capriccio Stravagante/Skip Sempe [Naive] 13.

MusicWeb gave it a thumbs-up, saying "This is a lovely recital and displays Bayo’s talents in this tricky repertoire". On its original release, Gramophone said "Bayo is a delightfully spirited singer, responsive to words and music, and with a bright gleam to her voice"; for the reissue, the reviewer said "Bayo's singing... is for the most part delightful" but complained about the "giant aircraft hangar" acoustic. Classics Today gave it 9/9, saying "this is really magnificent singing accompanied by interpretive instincts that invariably show the true theatrical essence of these wonderful Handel creations". In a brief overview of Naive reissues, BBC Music called this "a winner".

"Opera seria" - arias from 11 operas. Sandrine Piau (soprano); Les Talens Lyriques/Christophe Rousset [Naive] 12.

"Rousset and Piau achieve the perfect synthesis of elegance, extravagance and emotion. I yearned for them to continue with the rest of the opera after each cruelly brief extract. This is without doubt the finest recital of Handel arias I have ever heard" - Gramophone. "This arguably is the best Handel aria recording ever made by a soprano" - Classics Today (10/10). "one might almost want to call this new recording by French soprano Sandrine Piau a mandatory acquisition... There must be something wrong with this recording but I haven’t been able to figure out what it is" - (10). (translating) "This recital should be in everyone's collection" - Classics Today France (10/10). But the BBC Music reviewer didn't join in, giving it 3 out of 5 for performance and 4 for sound. Penguin Guide gave it ***.

"Portraits of mezzo-soprano heroines" - excerpts from Teseo, Hercules, and Radamisto. Maria Riccarda Wesseling (mezzo); Lautten Compagney Berlin/Wolfgang Katschner [Claves] 20.

"My checklist of comments regarding her singing is almost all favourable. This is a clear, clean and well-supported voice", said MusicWeb; "The band shows its mettle in its solo outings". gave it 8: "If there is a criticism, it is that the program is rather limited in its emotional range... in short, no really bright bravura arias".

Theatre music

The Alchemist; Apollo e Dafne. European Union Baroque Orchestra/Roy Goodman [Naxos] 29.

See below, under Secular cantatas, for the Apollo e Dafne reviews.

Handel on eMusic: Oratorios

Odes, Oratorios, etc

Acis and Galatea. Suzie LeBlanc, etc; Les Boreades/Eric Milnes [Atma] 30.

Fanfare said it's "admirable in many ways, but it cannot quite rival William Christie’s Erato version". Gramophone said "the overall performance is closer to the spirit of Handel’s original Cannons conception than most other recordings of this standard, and I warmly recommend it". gave it 7, saying "this is not a perfect recording, but it is a really enjoyable one that offers some marvellous moments rarely heard even in globally better recordings".

Acis and Galatea. Kym Amps, etc; The Scholars of London [Dorian] 28.

8/8 from Classics Today: "Soprano Kym Amps and tenor Robin Doveton are wonderful as the two lovers".

Acis and Galatea. Kym Amps, etc; The Scholars Baroque Ensemble [Naxos] 28.

The Fanfare reviewer said "It isn't wonderful, though it certainly isn't bad", also noting that the Vox recording from the Ama Deus Ensemble is "rather weakly conducted". BBC Music gave it 3-3, describing it as "dramatically underpowered and sometimes insecure". Gramophone was more positive: "a keen feeling for Handel’s style... Had there been less fiddling with the text... I should have been happy to recommend this disc, and I still can, guardedly". In a review of the Vox recording of the Ama Deus Ensemble (see below), MusicWeb noted of the Naxos one "The performance is marred mainly by a misguided decision to transpose Polyphemus from tenor to alto". Penguin Guide gave it ** - "well worth hearing".

Acis and Galatea. Joan Sutherland, etc; Philomusica of London/Adrian Boult [Past Classics] 20.

The March 1960 review in Gramophone said "The cast selected for this recording is excellent... Sir Adrian Boult and the Philomusica deal with Handel's score in an altogether admirable manner, for there is crisp and incisive playing when it is needed, and pathos rich in sonority where the score and the sentiment demand it". Reviewing a Decca reissue (in a 2-disc set with Sutherland singing baroque arias), BBC Music said "For all its shortcomings — Sutherland rather leaden, with the male leads all at times struggling — this recording manages to communicate the wit of Gay's libretto and the easy sophistication of Handel's music, not least thanks to Boult's deft direction", and gave it 4-4. The recording was subsequently released on Chandos but isn't on emusic in that form; the following reviews are of that reissue, which is a different transfer and may be sonically different. In February 2008, Gramophone said "Plenty of things have changed for the better in the past five decades — the overwrought, trembling choruses sound particularly dated and recitatives are laboured — but there are a lot of moments that show how the class of '59 knew what they were doing". Classics Today gave it 8/8: "Yes, there are other fine performances of this work... But this one is sui generis. How nice to have it back!" MusicWeb gave it a thumbs-up, saying "this Golden Age Acis is a splendid example of technical and lyric superiority in action". Fanfare said "there are virtues to be found in this album. That they aren’t the ones one would expect to find in a modern performance of Handel’s operas needn’t surprise anyone".

Acis and Galatea. Julianne Baird, etc; Ama Deus Ensemble/Valentin Radu [Vox] 29.

In a review of the reissue of this recording by Brilliant, MusicWeb said "Julianne Baird, as Galatea, is one of the best things on the disc" but was otherwise not so impressed: "Radu’s tendency to set a tempo and let it run in a very 4-square manner is not helpful to either the piece or the performers". Also speaking of Brilliant's reissue, said "This recording under Valentin Radu could have been a correct one even if sometimes monotonous. However, problems of accuracy from the orchestra and some soloists prevent it from being a safe recommendation"; it scored 5 out of 10. Fanfare's review of the Naxos recording (see above) noted that the Vox one is "rather weakly conducted".

Acis and Galatea. Susan Hamilton, etc; Dunedin Consort and Players/John Butt [Linn] 29.

A Recording of the Month for MusicWeb: "My former version of choice for Acis, the King’s Consort... now becomes an honourable also-ran". An Editor's Choice for Gramophone: "Previous versions of merit still possess enduring appeal, but it seems to me that the Dunedins have transformed the way in which we can understand and enjoy Handel's lovely early English masterpiece". It is "warmly recommended" by International Record Review. It got 3-4 from BBC Music, though: "Overall a good version, though several better it".

Alexander's Feast, including Harp concerto op.4/6 and Organ concerto op.4/1. The Sixteen; The Symphony of Harmony and Invention/Harry Christophers [Coro] 37.

The Fanfare reviewer narrows the options down to this one and Gardiner's recording on Philips. "Of the two versions, Christophers’s is to my mind texturally the more closely integrated and satisfying. When it comes to the performances, it is Gardiner’s more pointed and characterful reading that has the edge. Christophers’s more relaxed lyricism at times runs the risk of creating an impression of blandness", although the reviewer praises Christophers's soloists. BBC Music gave it full marks in a short review. Gramophone's 1991 review of this recording's original release on Collins said "while very much admiring the Gardiner recording, I warmly recommend this new one by Christophers. Nancy Argenta's performance is particularly memorable and the choral singing of The Sixteen is a model of clarity". In 2005, the reviewer called it "a superb performance" while noting the "unsuitable church acoustic". It scored 9 from "it is certainly the best Handel recording that these performers have made. I am delighted to warmly welcome its reissue on Coro, and hope it wins the ode many new friends".

Alexander's Feast, plus Bach's 'Alles mit Gott', BWV1127. The Bach Sinfonia/Daniel Abraham [Dorian] 32.

American Record Guide said "Abraham is thoroughly reliable and satisfactory , but his soloists are light-voiced and a bit on the pallid side - no competition for Christophers's team... [the pacing] lacks the excitement and thrust that Christophers delivers". The ensemble's web site provides 2 positive reviews (via PDF) from Early Music America and Choral Journal.

Alexander's Feast; Ode for St Cecilia's Day (arr Mozart, and both in German). Handel & Haydn Society/Christopher Hogwood [Arabesque] 51.

This was originally recorded in 1993 for L'Oiseau-Lyre, but never released until Arabesque got hold of it. gave it top marks: "some of Christopher Hogwood’s most satisfying work, and a performance sparkling with life, emotional contrasts, and musical integrity. It isn’t easy to make Handel’s greatest English music sound comfortable in German Mozartian form, yet Hogwood does this with disarming brilliance." One Fanfare reviewer said "Hogwood’s soloists are confident in their individual presentations and behind the notes... The chorus and orchestra are also extraordinarily fine", while another said "for the Mozart arrangements, the new Arabesque set can be warmly recommended, and is a most welcome addition to the catalogs"; that reviewer also recommended The Sixteen's recording on Coro for the original version of Alexander's Feast.

L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. Linda Perillo, etc; Junge Kantorei; Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra/Joachim Carlos Martini [Naxos] 49.

"Martini’s rendering is, frankly, a disgrace, with very few redeeming features... this recording is not recommended under any circumstances. Oh, the shame of it!" - so said, giving it 2 out of 10. Fanfare said "in general [it] rarely rises above the level of mediocrity". MusicWeb said "The performances comes over as sober and a little dutiful; they are severely lacking in charm and humour... A performance of ‘L’Allegro’ should be enchanting and this one isn’t". Penguin Guide gave it just * - "from the start the measured numbers bring limp, heavy-handed performances with poor ensemble". Did nobody like it? On ClassicalNet, we read "There's no doubt that they are more polished representations of this work. At the same time, there is something very appealing about this intimate and relaxed reading".

Athalia. Elisabeth Scholl, etc; Junge Kantorei; Barockorchester Frankfurt/Joachim Carlos Martini [Naxos] 61.

"the acoustic is much too resonant and there are occasional moments of uncertain ensemble that betray the recording’s live origins", said Gramophone; "Martini shows himself to be a good Handelian, conveying the majesty of the big choruses, where he often establishes a good rhythm, and his tempos are for the most part well chosen", but the recording "hardly begins to compete" with Christopher Hogwood's 1986 L'Oiseau-Lyre one. BBC Music gave it 3-3 in a short review, saying it had "a mainly strong cast" and was "a thoughtful performance". Fanfare was not so impressed: "Athalia badly needs a recommend-able recording, but this is not it. Joachim Carlos Martini seems to be a talented conductor, and he achieves some impressive effects with his period-instrument orchestra... The virtues of the performance go for little in the final analysis, I fear, because of the singing" (and the reviewer also says Hogwood's recording is the clear first choice). The Penguin Guide said "Very well cast and stylishly performed" and gave it ***. According to Naxos's catalogue, it also got a 9 out of 10 from French magazine Répertoire.

Belshazzar. Mark LeBrocq, etc; Maulbronner Kammerchor; Hannoversche Hofkapelle/Jurgen Buday [K&K] 52.

MusicWeb said "This is an apt record of what was probably a very exciting live event ... Despite the cuts and the limitations of live performance, it might be recommendable as a documentation of the second version of Handel’s oratorio", but the reviewer didn't like the voice of countertenor Patrick von Goethem. gave it 6: "It is hard to suggest anyone other than completists would bother, given the superior alternative choices".

Deborah. Elisabeth Scholl, etc; Junge Kantorei; Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra/Joachim Carlos Martini [Naxos] 74.

This got 5 out of 10 from "The usual problems with Martini’s performances are plain for all to hear: the choir struggle bravely with the English language, and this could be overlooked if they did not sound so clumsy and heavy. Good intentions abound more plentifully than good standards, and sadly this also applies to a few of the soloists". BBC Music gave it 3-3: "This new recording, taken from a concert performance, has its attractions, notably some shapely solo singing from Elisabeth Scholl [and] Lawrence Zazzo... And while the choral singing is pleasant enough, it is often handicapped by Martini's worthy but slightly stolid conducting". Comparing this with the recording by Robert King on Hyperion, one Fanfare reviewer said "The new Naxos is altogether bigger, bolder, and brasher.... In a work of this bellicose nature, there is a case to be made for the forthright method. But I find King overall the more sympathetic interpreter, and several of the best numbers in the work seem to me to demand his lighter touch". Another reviewer said "there’s a choice between King’s greater polish and better solo team, and Martini’s greater sense of theatre and drama... The Naxos set is certainly a good bargain, distinguished above all by Martini’s conviction and flair. He is unquestionably an excellent Handelian". Classics Today gave it 8/8 and said it is preferable to the Hyperion set. One MusicWeb reviewer said "if you give this modestly-priced issue a miss, you’ll be depriving yourself of some truly wonderful music, expertly executed", while a second said "My overall impression is one of insecurity and occasional insensitivity to the heroic nature of the score. In spite of its historical interest, this is therefore not a performance to be praised unreservedly". It got **(*) from the Penguin Guide: "rhythms tend to be too square, the choral singing is fresh and lively, but the soloists make a variable team".

Esther. Linda Russell etc; The Sixteen; The Symphony of Harmony and Invention/Harry Christophers [Coro] 40.

Gramophone called it "a strong, stylish and attractive Esther which offers plenty to enjoy", although the reviewer preferred Christopher Hogwood's recording. gave it a 9 and called it "a recording that Handel lovers should listen to many times". There were 2 reviews in Fanfare: one said "There can be little question that the true heroes of the present recording are Christophers, who conducts the work with a fervent conviction that makes the excellent Hogwood look at times a little prosaic, and his quite magnificent chorus... His soloists enjoy somewhat more mixed fortunes... In general, though, this is a quite splendid performance of a work more often mentioned by historians than heard, a fate it certainly does not deserve"; the other noted "a grandeur of choral sound beyond anything offered by Hogwood’s perfectly respectable performance... Where, furthermore, Hogwood’s soloists were all at least adequate and in some cases much better than that term implies, Christophers’ group is even finer overall". Klassik Heute gave it 9-8-9 (artistic quality, sound, overall impression). The Penguin Guide gave it *** - "an aptly intimate view, light and fresh". The one negative review comes from

Gideon. Barbara Hannigan, etc; Junge Kantorei; Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra/Joachim Carlos Martini [Naxos] 73.

This is a pasticcio created in 1769 by John Christopher Smith and Thomas Morell. One MusicWeb reviewer called it "an enjoyable performance of (often) familiar music, given an interesting new flavour", while another said "there aren’t many serious reservations to be made about the spirit of the interpretation, even if there are some problematic features along the way". It got 7/8 from Classics Today, which said "While all of the soloists have their shining moments, there's nothing here that's especially impressive either. The Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra plays very well, with requisite energy and precision under Joachim Carlos Martini, who does as well with this material as can be expected". gave it 6, calling it "a curiosity that is well worth hearing". Fanfare didn't say much about the performance, although it noted "Smith not only makes his Handelian choices with acumen, but was himself a composer of fair accomplishment... [Morell's libretto] is serviceable if rarely inspired".

Hercules. Peter Kooij, etc; Junge Kantorei; Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra/Joachim Carlos Martini [Naxos] 76.

"I can recommend this Naxos recording for those on a budget or as a supplement to the Minkowski recording [on Archiv]" - Fanfare. One MusicWeb reviewer said "This is a well appointed set, but one which lacks the fire of drama. At three discs long you might consider it better to save up and try and get one of the other performances; frankly, that’s what I’d do", while another gave it a thumbs-up and said "the singing, playing and theatrical and musical direction on the current release would have had to be extraordinary to better [Minkowski's]. They aren’t, quite – but they are very good indeed and full of life and integrity. There really is much to enjoy here". Gramophone said "in certain respects Hercules is Martini's most consistently agreeable Handel recording yet". American Record Guide said "this is a very satisfying and enjoyable presentation of this great work", although not as good as competing recordings from Minkowski and Gardiner.

Israel in Babylon. Kantorei Saarlouis; Ensemble UnaVolta/Joachim Fontaine [K617] 56.

This is a pasticcio created by Edward Toms in 1764. No reviews found.

Israel in Egypt. Aradia Ensemble/Kevin Mallon [Naxos] 49.

A thumbs-up from MusicWeb: "Whatever detailed shortcomings there may be here, what matters is that the performance as a whole sounds live - although it is not - and has a real feeling for the vigour of Handel’s inspiration... This is a real winner". Praise also from Fanfare: "Of recordings of the entire work on period instruments, most critics seem to agreed that Parrott on EMI is the best, and it is indeed a good one. I would place this recording from Naxos on at least a level with Parrott, and perhaps give it preference because of its less funereal part I and more forceful presentation of parts II and III". American Record Guide said "A really great performance of this astounding score should inspire awe, thrills, and excitement; and this one does pretty consistently once it picks up speed". BBC Music gave it 3-3, saying the choir "is on the slender side".

Israel in Egypt (shortened version). The Sixteen; The Symphony of Harmony and Invention/Harry Christophers [Coro] 34.

This version lacks the first of the three parts, 'The sons of Israel do mourn', and there are also other bits left out. The MusicWeb review says, "Only Part two has survived without cuts. The only reason I can think of to take this decision is a financial one. Artistically it is very unsatisfying". Speaking of the original issue on Collins Classics, which had the full work with all 3 parts, Gramophone said "in spite of the fine choral singing, this is not a set I can recommend", noting some poor solo singing. also (an 8): "this ‘1771’ version – unlike conventional ‘highlights’ discs in general - reveals what a theatrical and musical masterpiece Israel in Egypt is without its padding and superfluous arias... The weak soloists and hints of fatigue that slightly marred the complete recording do not show ... making Christophers’s performance seem more vivid and exciting than it originally really was". The Penguin Guide reviewed the complete set on its appearance on Regis Records, and gave it *(**) - "The playing and singing are bright, but sadly the (originally Collins) recording is so reverberant that there is a serious loss of inner detail".

Israel in Egypt. Akademisk Kor & Orkester/Morten Topp [Classico] 47.

No reviews found.

Israel in Ägypten (ie, Israel in Egypt, sung in German). Knabenchor Hannover; Capella Agostino Steffani/Heinz Hennig [Bella Musica] 31.

No reviews found.

Jephtha. Julian Podger, etc; Maulbronner Kammerchor; Barockorchester der Kosterkonzerte/Jurgen Budday [K&K] 22.

According to MusicWeb: "If you are curious about Handel’s Jephtha this performance is adequate, but you risk missing the work’s essential genius, far better to save up and buy John Eliot Gardiner’s classic account. But if you are an admirer of Emma Kirkby’s, then you might care to have this on your shelves". Gramophone agrees: "Its outstanding feature, the artistry of Emma Kirkby, cannot justify preferring it as a version of one of Handel’s greatest oratorios to the much fuller version under Gardiner, one of his finest achievements".

Joshua. Mark LeBrocq, etc; Maulbronner Kammerchor; Hannoversche Hofkapelle/Jurgen Buday [K&K] 61.

This is "a wet noodle of a reading", according to Fanfare; "From what I can tell by comparing it to excerpts of [Buddayy's] Solomon, Saul, and Messiah, this is the weakest of the lot". MusicWeb says "Had I been present at this performance, I am sure that I would have joined in the applause preserved at the end of the second CD – I certainly would not have felt short-changed. Had the Hyperion version [conducted by Robert King] not been available, I could have given this recording a more hearty welcome. As it is, the best outshines the mostly good". American Record Guide says much the same: "while this is a fairly effective showing for Budday, and enjoyable of itself, it falls short of the higher stylishness and musicality of King's recording".

Joshua. John Aler, etc; Palmer Singers; Brewer Chamber Orchestra/Rudolph Palmer [Newport Classic] 35.

Comparing this with Robert King's recording on Hyperion, Gramophone said "The American recording is somewhat less polished; but I have to say that there were a great numbers I found much more enjoyable here. Most of their tempos are quicker and more dramatic, and there is a vitality about the whole which, by comparison, often makes the English performance sound languid". In a review of the K&K recording (above), American Record Guide said - comparing Palmer and King - "My perception has always been that Palmer's recording offers better solo and dramatic qualities, but King more grandeur and musical richness".

Judas Maccabaeus. Guy de Mey, etc; U.C. Berkeley Chamber Chorus; Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 65.

Gramophone found this "a very acceptable performance, livelier and more dramatic in manner than the recent one under [Robert] King [on Hyperion]".

Judas Maccabaeus. Mark LeBrocq, etc; Maulbronner Kammerchor; Musica Florea Prague/Jurgen Budday [K&K] 58.

MusicWeb said "This is an excellent recording of one of Handel's best and most popular oratorios, and is highly recommended". Fanfare also praised it, saying "The performance is generally a good one, greatly helped by the fact that the German forces are joined by English-speaking soloists. Budday’s conducting is, for the most part, sensitive to the requirements of the score and Handel’s tempo markings... The factor that makes this recording uncompetitive with the best of the competition is that it is not complete. Aside from some recitatives, Budday cuts the B section and da capo of “From mighty kings” and, surprisingly, the well-known March from act III".

Judas Maccabaeus. Jan Peerce, etc; Vienna Academy Chorus; Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Thomas Scherman [Phoenix USA] 53.

In 1975, Gramophone said "In spite of some fine singing, I cannot recommend these records. The quality of the sound, never good, is downright poor on the third side... Thomas Scherman is a notable musician, but he does not seem to me to have much feeling for Handel".

Judas Maccabaeus. Heather Harper, etc; English Chamber Orchestra/Johannes Somary [Alto/Musical Concepts] 56.

On its release in 1972, Gramophone said "in the main, a competent performance. The solo singing is mostly very distinguished". It was subsequently reissued by Regis, and the MusicWeb reviewer said "While this recording shows a few wrinkles - after all, it is more than 30 years old - it has enough interest to more than justify its bargain price". It was also released by Brilliant as part of a Handel box set; the MusicWeb reviewer was unimpressed by the "huge, vibrato laden sound" of the chorus but described the orchestra as "crisp, rhythmic and not a little stylish" and said "The recording is blessed with four very stylish British Handelians and is worth listening to for them, if nothing else". gave the Brilliant reissue 6 out of 10: "Both the orchestra and the choir sound a little “old-fashioned” but Johannes Somary’s conducting is full of energy... the soloists are of a very good standard".

Messiah. Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki [BIS] 55.

An 8-8-10 (artistic quality, sound, and overall impression) from KlassikHeute, and a 4-4 from BBC Music ("a particularly moving account"). Gramophone says "Many will identify closely with Suzuki’s concentrated rhetorical view of Messiah. Others will miss that home-grown quality of laid-back characterization executed with almost nonchalant grandeur... Suzuki’s genuinely devotional spirit lends effective weight to much of Part 2 (even if the string playing is intermittently scrappy) and gives this Messiah a special place in a distinguished list of recordings". In a 2007 MusicWeb review of a Masaaki Suzuki concert, Bernard Jacobson notes in passing, "it still stands, even for me who grew up in Messiah-land, as the finest performance of that much mistreated work I have ever heard". Penguin Guide gave it *** - "With his excellent Japanese singers and players, Masaaki Suzuki here excels himself".

Messiah. Collegium Musicum 90/Richard Hickox [Chandos] 54.

Gramophone said "Hickox has assembled a first-rate team for his recording and, though I sometimes find myself at odds with him over details, he has succeeded in conveying to me the humanity of Handel's masterly score, its contrasts, its gestures, its radiance and its tenderness... all in all a splendid achievement; I can imagine few readers being disappointed". Only a 6 from, where the reviewer said "Hickox’s speeds are well chosen, and the technical skill of his musicians cannot be disputed. But the traditional direction of the oratorio is slightly too safe to inspire excitement, and for stretches the performers sound as if they were on autopilot. Those with specific reason to buy this version will probably not be disappointed. Others wishing to buy a cheap complete recording of a historically aware Messiah performance may be more satisfied by Andrew Parrott (Virgin Veritas) or Diego Fasolis (Arts)".

Messiah (including alternative versions of various bits). U.C. Berkeley Chamber Chorus; Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 52.

"The performance itself is stylish with plenty of appropriate attention to details of phrasing, articulation and declamation", said Gramophone. "My greatest disappointment on listening to this carefully considered version arises from the undercharacterization of Handel's music... Perhaps the least attractive aspect of the release, however, concerns the recording itself which is dry, lustreless and almost entirely lacking in resonance".

Messiah. Scholars Baroque Ensemble [Naxos] 49.

A 15-track highlights album is here. "there is plenty of fresh air about this Messiah, and I welcome it to the catalogue" - Gramophone. Penguin Guide gave it **(*) - "on the smallest possible scale... At brisk speeds, with rhythms well sprung, this will please those who fancy such an approach, though the period-instrumental sound is abrasive, and none of the singers has a voice of star quality". The Naxos catalogue says the highlights disc got a 10 (out of 10) from French magazine Répertoire.

Messiah. Trinity Choir and Orchestra/Owen Burdick [Naxos] 54.

"While this recording is not likely to blow anyone away with virtuosity, new insights, or even superior sound quality, it's a good middle of the road performance whose authority and ultimately its overall appeal reside in its very fine choir, decent orchestra, and competent-to-excellent soloists" - Classics Today, giving it 7/6.

Messiah. Choir of Clare College; Freiburger Barockorchester/René Jacobs [Harmonia Mundi] 44.

Gramophone said "Jacobs juxtaposes brilliance with foolishness... Some might like the waywardness of iconoclastic challenges but, in truth, a lot of the new ideas here are poorly conceived and show a poor grasp of Handel's musical personality. For an infinitely more rewarding fresh look at Handel's most familiar music, look no further than the Dunedin Consort's performance". BBC Music gave it 4-5 and said "Jacobs achieves a result which will disappoint few if any readers". Fanfare described it as "replete with Jacobs’s trademark swiftness and precision. The Freiburger Barockorchester plays superbly for him, and there is much to savor among the solo contributions, so why is this not my recommended version? Simply, the soloists are not starry enough to bring it off". Classics Today gave it 8/8, although the review maybe implies a lower score: "this is a real mixed bag... There is a lot of impressive showing off here--and a lot of really gorgeous Handel, but ultimately the overtly dramatic gestures come across as contrived and obvious rather than well-integrated and ingratiating". Classics Today France gave it 9/10. American Record Guide said "Jacobs's vocal forces are outstanding... Technically, Jacobs offers a performance of the highest overall quality and zest... but it is just a bit too idiosyncratic to be the only or the prime recording one wants to live with".

Messiah. Dunedin Consort & Players/John Butt [Linn] 57.

A Recording of the Month for MusicWeb, which gave a rather comprehensive comparison with Paul McCreesh's recording and concluded "I’d say there are more gains than losses to be had from this 1742 Dublin experience... To sum up, McCreesh is very good but Butt is often better. McCreesh’s instrumental contributions are generally more stylish and his bigger choruses sometimes have more pizazz. However, partly by his consistent clarity in articulating the text Butt conveys more spirituality which in the final analysis is more significant. He also has the fresher and more immediate recording". Gramophone said "Butt and the Dunedin Consort marry astute scholarship to sincere artistic expression and the result is comfortably the freshest, most natural, revelatory and transparently joyful Messiah I have heard for a very long time". It got 4-5 from BBC Music but only 4/9 from Classics Today France. It got a 7 from "Butt’s conducting is particularly stylish and accurate, and both the orchestra and the choir are excellent... The whole result is slightly lacking in dramatic dimension, and the soloists are sometimes just honourable or average". Finally, Fanfare said "While this one has many positive qualities, in the end it is no match for its strongest competition... there is simply not enough energy and drive in this performance".

Messiah. Tenebrae Choir; London Symphony Orchestra/Colin Davis [LSO Live] 53.

BBC Music gave it 4-4: "His soloists are all good... The Tenebrae Choir, with its thirty-odd voices, proves near ideal for a performance on this sort of scale, and their sheer neatness is a delight. And whatever the lack of period sensitivities among the LSO, there’s no denying that this is high-quality playing, even if the music’s character registers more strongly with period forces". Fanfare, however, described it as "a performance in which very little happens—it comes across as note reading for the most part". Classics Today France gave it 8/6, while gave it 3-2-3. Gramophone said "It's the personal connection that I feel is lost from this performance".

Messiah. The Sixteen/Harry Christophers [Coro] 56.

"For a period-instrument performance, this recording from Christophers is as good as any I have heard, and I highly recommend it" - Fanfare. It got full marks from BBC Music, which said "For those disinclined to live with Marc Minkowski’s idiosyncrasies, Paul McCreesh’s evangelising or William Christie’s Gallic perspective, Christophers’ is a new version to rival Trevor Pinnock’s more ‘mainstream’ 1988 Messiah – and by a pinch, eclipses it". Gramophone said "Christophers conducts with finesse and integrity. This fine team performance is a safe recommendation for anyone wanting to acquire an all-purpose "period" Messiah". Classics Today France gave it 9/8.

Messiah. Saint Michael's Singers; English Symphony Orchestra/William Boughton [Nimbus] 57.

Disaster! "releasing a commercial recording of this pedestrian and instantly forgettable performance is mystifying", according to, giving it 2 out of 10. Gramophone said "I can see no purpose whatsoever in the very ordinary Nimbus issue, particularly given the fact that it comes at full price. It is the kind of well-behaved, dull performance, using the Watkins Shaw edition, you would have encountered up and down the country before the reformists and sound-cleaners got going some 25 years ago". Classics Today asked "Why? With so many fine-to-great Messiah's already available, who stands to benefit from this lackluster, hardly serviceable offering?" (score 2/6).

Messiah. Coro della Radio Svizzera; I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis [Arts] 53.

The review in Gramophone said "The approach is light, intimate, rhythmically bouyant – almost to a fault – and both vocal and instrumental lines are constitently clear. Fasolis is too inclined to favour bouncy, almost jerky accents, which tend to exaggerate effects that are evident enough without such under-lining... The orchestral playing is exemplary, the choral singing rather less so, because this non-English choir too often seems unaware of the import of what they are singing". Classics Today gave it 7/6: "This is a thoughtful, small-scaled, pious (rather than dramatic) reading".

Messiah. Amor Artis Chorale; English Chamber Orchestra/Johannes Somary [Vanguard] 53.

Described in a Gramophone Collection article on this work as "an attractive middle-of-the-road account, faithful to Handel's vision in virtually all respects, except for a question mark over the choral decoration". It was released by Brilliant as part of a Handel box set; gave it 6 out of 10 - "It is slightly monotonous, but the interpretation is sensitive and with a certain dramatic sense". MusicWeb said "On repeated listening to this recording, I rather warmed to it and began to relax a little when the chorus started singing".

Messiah. Oregon Bach Festival Choir and Orchestra/Helmuth Rilling [Haenssler] 53.

Just 2-4 from BBC Music: "Period instruments may well have supplied the bite and colour lacking here. My chief quarrel, however, is with Rilling’s approach to rhythm: tempi are often hurried, insistent and almost obsessively precise. The soloists sound uncomfortable with this rigidity". In the 2003 Gramophone Collection article on Messiah, the reviewer said "Rilling can always be relied on for sensible, middle-ofthe-road solutions to choral works. His Messiah is no exception".

Messiah. Huddersfield Choral Society; Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Malcolm Sargent [Past Classics] 30.

In its Collection article on Messiah, Gramophone said "Easy to make fun of today, Sargent's methods and manner held great sway and brought much pleasure to many in their time". I'm not sure about the provenance of this recording - the listed soloists rule out the 1947 or 1959 releases.

Messiah. The Ambrosian Singers; I Solisti Veneti/Claudio Scimone [Arts] 50.

A 27-track highlights disc is here. This "may be regarded as a 'middle-of-the-road' performance of Messiah but it is none the less effective for being that", according to Gramophone, which reviewed it together with Nicholas McGegan's recording; "There are curiosities, certainly, but the performance has a radiance and a liveliness all too lacking in the Harmonia Mundi set".

Messiah. Boston Baroque/Martin Pearlman [Telarc] 53.

A 27-track highlights disc is here. This is "one of the happiest Messiahs on disc", Gramophone said. But, "After a while, the relentless good humour and scarcely varied pacing and texture of this performance become counterproductive, even a little wearing".

Messiah. Stockholm Bach Choir; Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra members/Anders Ohrwall [First Impression] 48.

No reviews found.

Messiah. Akademisk Kor & Orkester/Morten Topp [Classico] 51.

No reviews found.

Messiah. Ama Deus Ensemble/Valentin Radu [Vox] 50.

No reviews found.

Messiah (arr. Mozart). Maulbronner Kammerchor; Hannover Hofkapelle/Jurgen Budday [K&K] 48.

"a typical historically informed performance, light-footed and airy. The soloists are often fine", says Fanfare. "There are so many Messiahs available that one is only going to want this uniquely for Mozart’s contribution".

Messiah (arr. Mozart). Handel & Haydn Society/Andrew Parrott [Arabesque] 52.

BBC Music gave it 4 for performance, 3 for sound: "The overall effect is one of spiritual maturity. Parrott is ably assisted by his team of soloists". But the reviewer says Rilling's recording on Haenssler is the best choice for Mozart's version.

Messiah (arr. Mozart). Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart; Bach-Collegium Stuttgart/Helmut Rilling [Haenssler] 54.

Gramophone said "Apart from some reservations voiced earlier in the review [notably the conductor's "slavish adherence to rather stiff four-square rhythmic patterns"] this is a lively performance of Messiah which is certainly worth considering for the solo contributions, above all. And if rhythmic straitjackets do not impede your enjoyment then you will find much else to enjoy as well". A 21-track highlights album is available here.

Messiah (arr. Mozart but sung in English). Huddersfield Choral Society; Royal Philharmonic Orchestra/Charles Mackerras [Signum] 47.

Penguin Guide gave it *** and a key symbol, saying "altogether this is very satisfying indeed". MusicWeb called it "a ripping good performance" and said 'If you want a traditional Messiah with added wind parts, then you cannot go wrong with this one". BBC Music gave it 4-3 and called it "highly enjoyable".

Messiah (in German). Solitenvereinigung und Rundfunkchor Berlin; Rundfunk Sinfonie Orchester Berlin/Helmut Koch [Berlin] 53.

Reviewing a highlights disc of this 1975 recording, MusicWeb said "This is more for those who wish to immerse themselves in thick orchestral sound and big-boned choruses. It may also suit those who wish to remind themselves of how far we have come in understanding the style of this music".

Messiah - "Favorite choruses and arias". Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Chorus/Robert Shaw [Telarc] 16.

Reviewing the full set, Gramophone said "The recording reaches only half-way towards a Handelian style... Shaw seems uninterested in imposing any sort of consistency. But at least he is lively".

Messiah - choruses. Bratislava City Choir; Capella Istropolitana/Jaroslav Krcek [Naxos] 22.

No reviews found.

Nabal. Stephan MacLeod, etc; Junge Kantorei; Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra/Joachim Carlos Martini [Naxos] 55.

This is a pasticcio created in 1964 by John Christopher Smith and Thomas Morell. MusicWeb said "The performance is neat and conscientious, sometimes more... this is an honourable presentation of a work, the problematical and artificial nature of which means that recordings will be few and far between". BBC Music gave it 4-3, saying it's "a non-starter as drama, with a sometimes ludicrous mismatch between words and music. As an eclectic cross-section of Handel’s works, with the emphasis on easy pastoral tunefulness, Nabal has its points, I suppose, though if you value the composer as one of the world’s supreme musical dramatists, you may want to give it a wide berth. No serious complaints about the performance". One Fanfare reviewer said "I am happy to welcome this performance, which is of an acceptable standard, and in places better than that somewhat half-hearted phrase suggests", while another said "On almost every level, Nabal is a disastrous failure... The oratorio's total lack of dramatic impact or flair seems to have affected that stylish Handelian Martini, who sounds relatively uninspired by the whole affair, as does his (oversized) chorus, who contribute some sluggish, bored-sounding work. The sole compensation comes from some really fine singing from McLeod, Perillo, and van der Heijden". Gramophone's reviewer concluded with "Not‚ then‚ an essential purchase‚ but certainly an interesting curiosity". Classics Today gave it 7/7: "The performance is good enough, but as you might guess, the work has no musical cohesion and it is not very engrossing dramatically". Penguin Guide gave it **(*) - "The principal snag is that the chorus is dimly recorded". gave it just 4 out of 10. According to the Naxos catalogue, the French magazine Répertoire gave it a Ré (meaning recommended).

Ode for St Cecilia's Day. Dorothee Mields (soprano); Mark Wilde (tenor); Alsfelder Vokalensemble; Concerto Polacco/Wolfgang Helbich [Naxos] 13.

"an okay performance", said Classics Today, giving it 7/9. "Much of the problem rests with conductor Wolfgang Helbich's often-sluggish tempos and uninspired articulation". gave it a less forgiving 5: "The overall performance is serviceable enough, but the choir and orchestra both lack weight and expression... One can only assume that such disappointing lack of balance is due to Wolfgang Helbich’s unimaginative direction rather than the recording venue or engineers". Penguin Guide gave it **.

Ode for St Cecilia's Day; Organ concerto no.13; Zadok the Priest.Julia Gooding (soprano); Jeremy Ovenden (tenor); Francesco Cera (organ); Coro della Radio Svizzera; I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis [Arts] 17.

Without praising it too highly, Gramophone called this "a neatly characterised and pleasing performance". MusicWeb said "It is heartening to see Handel’s English works making their way amongst non-English speaking groups. If this disc does not quite live up to its opening promise, it’s certainly good enough to make me look forward to the group’s next offering".

La Resurrezione. Combattimento Consort Amsterdam/Jan Willem de Vriend [Challenge] 30.

4-2 from Fanfare said "For listeners not indissolubly wedded to period-instrument sonorities, de Vriend offers what well may now constitute the best performance overall" (although the reviewer admitted to not having heard the McGegan recording). Classics Today, on the other hand, said "This is a good second choice (or third, after McGegan) for this entertaining work" (the top choice being Marc Minkowski on Archiv) and gave it 7/8. Even less impressed was Classics Today France, giving it 5/7 and basically saying that bass Klaus Mertens ruined it. However, gave it a 9 and said "This is the most consistent performance of La Resurrezione on disc".

La Resurrezione. Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 44.

In a brief review, no star rating given, Gramophone, reviewing both this recording and one by Ton Koopman, says "It seems these days that early music performances increasing hinge on the stamp of the conductor. The colourfulness and polish of the Koopman performance are characteristic, just as the artful string and harpsichord playing are of McGegan's. With such fine singers, we're plainly spoilt for choice".

Samson. Thomas Randle, etc; The Sixteen; The Symphony of Harmony and Invention/Harry Christophers [Coro] 81.

Praised by MusicWeb, whose reviewer notes "listeners who tend not to appreciate baroque opera, and especially Handel, because of soprano and counter-tenor leads, will find this combination of rich tenor voices enjoyable". In its initial incarnation on Collins Classics, it got full marks from BBC Music: "dramatic Handel as fine as any on record". gave it 8, saying "Christophers takes a traditional oratorio approach, carefully pausing between most movements, enough to prevent the essential sense of rising drama in Parts 1 and 2. But this recording is unlikely to be surpassed easily, and is most warmly recommended". Gramophone's reviewer says "I suspect, however, that Christophers is probably less concerned with the drama of the work than with its religious and philosophical aspects, and of course with presenting a direct and faithful realization of it", going on to say "He has an excellent cast... The Sixteen provide clear and spirited choral singing throughout".

Samson. Mark LeBrocq, etc; Maulbronner Kammerchor; Maulbronn Baroque Orchestra/Jurgen Budday [K&K] 43.

No reviews found.

Saul. Kirsten Blaise, etc; Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart; Bach-Collegium Stuttgart/Helmut Rilling [Haenssler] 80.

Fanfare said this "has much to recommend it" but preferred Gardiner's recording on Philips. Gramophone said Daniel Taylor's "honey-toned David is easily the best on disc" and praised the choir but said "Such good work is undone by Rilling’s failure to realise the musical expression of more extreme passions". Klassik Heute gave it 8-8-8. BBC Music gave it 3-4, saying "Notwithstanding a few weaknesses, Rilling convincingly sustains the drama" and naming René Jacobs' recording, listed below, as the benchmark. American Record Guide said that against rival recordings, "Rilling is not to be taken seriously".

Saul. Rosemary Joshua, etc; RIAS Kammerchor; Concerto Koln/René Jacobs [Harmonia Mundi] 46.

Top marks from Classics Today, Classics Today France, Klassik Heute, and BBC Music, and a Gramophone Editor's Choice. gave it 7 out of 10, saying "Although René Jacobs’ wilfully inconoclastic bad habits are deplorable to purists (I count myself among that outcast tribe), I cannot remember enjoying his Handel as much as this... there are serious problems in this performance regarding musical decisions. But if these frequent blots had been replaced with more sensible decisions based on Handel’s score this might well have been the perfect Saul". One Fanfare reviewer said "While there can be little doubt as to Jacobs’s commitment to Handel’s first great oratorio, he ultimately fails to convince me that he has lived with Saul long enough to penetrate all its depths", whereas another said "Jacobs has superb choral singing and orchestral playing, but the soloists are not on the level of the two other leading versions [McCreesh and Gardiner]". Penguin Guide gave it **(*) - "a vibrant alternative performance to McCreesh's enoyable DG set".

Saul. Stephen Varcoe, etc; Maulbronner Kammerchor; Hannoversche Hofkapelle/Jurgen Budday [K&K] 63.

"This set reeks of "quasi-professional oratorio society".", according to Classics Today, which gave it 5/7. gave it 5, saying "This Saul simply fails to ever launch itself onto a sufficient level... It is a crying shame that this recording is so disappointing, but I do not wish to imply that it is awfully bad: if I were to attend a local amateur performance of this standard I would be thrilled. As it is, Budday’s Saul is hardly the worst recording of the oratorio yet made: that dubious honour goes to the abrasive and incoherent version by Nikolaus Harnoncourt (Teldec). This is closely followed by Joachim Carlos Martini (Naxos), whose decision to perform Saul even more complete than Handel ever did fails to obscure the generally dismal quality of his performance". MusicWeb said "As a whole it is lacklustre and without real commitment from all participants... the main thing is that it is very undramatic, and that is a deadly sin".

Saul. Stephan MacLeod etc; Junge Kantorei; Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra/Joachim Carlos Martini [Naxos] 89.

The Fanfare reviewer had reservations about some of the singers, but said "Anyone who is tempted by Naxos's bargain price to discover the oratorio for the first time, however, will find the money well spent" (not that 89 tracks is a bargain for emusic subscribers though!). Gramophone said "this version has a very great deal to be said for it, and had I to choose a single recording of Saul it might well be this one". Penguin Guide gave it **(*) - "a clear, fresh, lively reading".

Solomon. Carolyn Sampson, etc; RIAS Kammerchor; Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin/Daniel Reuss [Harmonia Mundi] 59.

This got 3-3 from BBC Music: "sleek playing from the Berlin period instrument players, though the choir sounds too slim-line for the big moments... Reuss’s conducting is slack, allowing tempos to drag". It was an Editor's Choice in Gramophone, however: "I enjoyed the Harmonia Mundi recording almost unreservedly. Abetted by his crack period orchestra and 40_strong chorus, Reuss is responsive alike to the oratorio's ceremonial splendour and its fragrant pastoral tinta... Where the earlier recordings each have at least one unsatisfactory soloist, Reuss's solo line-up could hardly be bettered". And it got 10/10 from Classics Today: "This is one of those recordings that from the opening moments assures you that you won't be going anywhere--it's that good, it's that compelling, and it's absolutely essential". gave it 4-5-4. American Record Guide said "Taken on its own merits, Reuss's cast is a good one... Reuss has a star orchestral group... and his chorus is very good... His tempos are intelligent, but his direction quickly becomes much too stable and even leaden".

Solomon. Michael Chance, etc; Maulbronner Kammerchor; Hannoversche Hofkapelle/Jurgen Budday [K&K] 41.

Only 5 out of 10 from "this decent performance represents commendable spirit and good intentions... As with previous K&K Handel recordings, this cannot be given a safe recommendation... it is fair to observe that among the weaknesses in Budday’s performance there are also moments to relish. In the meantime, if you remain curious about the K&K recordings of Handel’s English oratorios made at Maulbronn, you would be best off starting with its respectable performance of Judas Maccabaeus". One MusicWeb reviewer was quite favourable; comparing with Martini's recording on Naxos, he said "Budday undoubtedly has more ebb and flow in the choral singing and the orchestra – to my ears a more romantic view". A second reviewer said "this is a sympathetic recording and live performances of Handel's magnificent oratorios deserve to be supported. Unfortunately given the overall level of this performance it is difficult to recommend this recording to anyone outside the circle of people who attended the event and would like these discs as a keepsake".

Solomon. Ewa Wolak, etc; Junge Kantorei; Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra/Joachim Carlos Martini [Naxos] 64.

Described as "a fine performance" by Classics Today, which gave it 8/8. Gramophone disagreed: "not a contender... Sometimes Martini catches the right tone... but his Naxos series of Handel oratorios is rarely rewarding. At its worst, like here, the results are predominantly dreadful". One MusicWeb reviewer said "I daresay that if one had been in the audience for this performance in Rheingau one would have found it a perfectly acceptable way of spending the evening. But I am not sure that it is a performance which most will want to listen to repeatedly. This is especially the case given the very high quality of the competition". However, a second MusicWeb reviewer said "I was deeply engrossed in this performance from beginning to end and I can’t see many Handel lovers being disappointed. No big names, perhaps, but excellent musicians doing an excellent and inspired job".

Susanna. Lorraine Hunt, etc; U.C. Berkeley Chamber Chorus; Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 46.

"This is, in short, certainly one of the best performances I have ever heard of any Handel oratorio, less selfconsciously brilliant or effective than some recently recorded ones, but marked by its integrity on every plane" - Gramophone.

Theodora. Lorraine Hunt, etc; U.C. Berkeley Chamber Chorus; Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra/Nicholas McGegan [Harmonia Mundi] 73.

Just 2-2 from BBC Music. "the strings of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra are lightweight, scrawny and fatally lack rhythmic lift and articulation"; the reviewer praises singers Hunt and Thomas but they "are not enough to redeem a disappointing set". Gramophone was much more positive: "The playing of the 36-piece orchestra is commendably neat and precise... and the chorus too deserves praise for its intonation and general security... Altogether one could not reasonably ask for a better performance in general".

Theodora. Heather Harper, etc; English Chamber Orchestra/Johannes Somary [Alto/Musical Concepts] 47.

This was originally released on Vanguard, and has been reviewed by Gramophone 3 times now. In 1969, the reviewer said "The recording must, of course, be welcomed. And bought. It has a generally good cast, and is on the right sort of scale. But I cannot be entirely enthusiastic about it... Some of the cuts are more regrettable than others... Just as regrettable, to my mind, are tamperings with Handel's scoring". Revisiting it in 1973, the same reviewer said "Somary is a reasonably stylish Handel conductor, if sometimes a bit sticky over tempo; he is less skilled an editor, taking unjustified liberties over scoring and ornamentation. There are some excellent Handelian singers in the cast". The third review (1993) said "This is a reasonably good performance—certainly superior to that by Harnoncourt (Teldec)—but because of the considerable cuts (no fewer than five arias and several da capos and middle sections) ardent Handelians will prefer McGegan's complete (and excellent) Harmonia Mundi recording".

Tobit. Maya Boog, etc; Junge Kantorei; Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra/Joachim Carlos Martini [Naxos] 66.

This pasticcio was created by arranger John Christopher Smith and librettist Thomas Morell in 1764. ClassicalNet describes the recording as "more than a space-filler and less than a revelation. It is completely competent, for all the good and ill that implies!". It was reviewed twice on MusicWeb, the first reviewer saying "Almost all the music is palpably Handelian and vigorously executed at that: these are not soloists or an orchestra who get involved with messes – and they acquit themselves admirably here", and the second saying "One of my main complaints about this performance is that it lacks drama, but given such an unsatisfactory plot in the first place we can’t really complain too much. Martini has assembled an excellent polyglot cast who all acquit themselves well... If you think of this as a recital disc then it is a nice proposition. Just put it on and enjoy some of Handel’s finest music in attractive performances". Klassik Heute gave it just 5-6-5 (artistic quality, sound, overall impression). American Record Guide said "The piece comes off fairly well".

Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno. Deborah York, etc; Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini [Naive] 55.

This got a thumbs-up from MusicWeb in 2008: "This 2001 account from Alessandrini was very well received in 2001. It is still extremely welcome now that it has been reissued and should be high on everyone’s list". Fanfare's review of the original release said "This is a brilliant realization of a work that sounds, in these performers' hands, even more masterly than I had previously thought it...A trionfo, not just for Time and Truth, but for all concerned". In 2008, another Fanfare reviewer said " Alessandrini’s Il trionfo would undoubtedly rate my recommendation if it had no competition, but events have conspired against him. Häim [on Virgin, released 2007 I think] is still the way to go". In a review of the original release, Gramophone said "This new version is done with prodigious energy and with rather rapid tempos... This is certainly the most dramatic of the three versions of Il trionfo in the catalogue". In 2001, BBC Music gave it 4-4.

Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Verita. Claron McFadden, etc; Junge Kantorei; Barockorchester Frankfurt/Joachim Carlos Martini [Naxos] 71.

What's the difference between Verita and Disinganno? Verita is an extensive 1737 revision of 1707's Disinganno. Fanfare said "this first recording (so far as I am aware) of the work's second version may be recommended with few reservations... a delightful work, sung, played, and conducted with conviction and style". Classics Today gave it 8/8, saying "The chorus, which is very big and appears to have been recorded from a far greater distance than the soloists, is splendid, as is the orchestra under Joachim Carlos Martini's leadership. The resonant acoustic makes the soloists sound a bit lonely, but otherwise, no complaints. Handel lovers should flock to this". BBC Music gave it 4-4: "The chorus, rather unwieldy in a resonant acoustic, sounds heftier than the 20-odd voices Handel assembled from London churches. But no committed Handelian could resist this first performance in 260 years".

"Arias" - from Samson, Rinaldo, Messiah, Semele, Alexander Balus, Jephta, Athalia, L'allegro..., and Solomon. Karina Gauvin (soprano); Tempo Rubato/Alexander Weimann [Atma] 19.

Classics Today France gave it 9/5, praising Gauvin but saying her voice is recorded too close and echoey. American Record Guide says this is "something quite special... She is one of the truly great singers of her day, and no Handel collector should miss this!"; of the sound, the reviewer says "The recording is notably vivid for the soloist, while [the orchestra] is placed just a little too much in the background".

"As steals the morn". Mark Padmore (tenor); The English Concert/Andrew Manze [Harmonia Mundi] 18.

A Gramophone Editor's Choice: "it is the joy in conveying the emotional core of each situation which marks out this disc". BBC Music gave it top marks and said "This is one of the most alluring recitals of its kind that has come my way for a very long time". Classics Today France gave it 8/10. American Record Guide called it "truly beautiful singing of truly beautiful music". Fanfare was less enthusiastic: "the varied collection of arias here is not mirrored in the range shown in the singing, which, though uniformly beautiful and musical in every way, is lacking in expressiveness and passion", although the reviewer concluded "if what you seek is a compilation of Handel’s greatest tenor hits, brilliantly played and well, but not stunningly, sung, and recorded with clarity by Harmonia Mundi, you will be happy with this new release".

"Choruses from the oratorios" - Messiah, Semele, Judas Maccabaeus, Jeptha, Israel in Egypt, Acis and Galatea, plus Zadok the Priest. Boston Chamber Choir and Orchestra/Robert Shorter [Rajon] 14.

No reviews found.

"Great oratorio duets". Carolyn Sampson (soprano); Robin Blaze (countertenor); Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Nicholas Kraemer [BIS] 18.

4-5 from BBC Music: "Her graceful, pearly soprano is nicely matched by his mellifluous counter-tenor, marred only by an occasional bulge of tone in the higher register. Nicholas Kraemer and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment provide well-schooled accompaniments, even if there’s a slight want of movement in places". Fanfare says "This is an exceptionally rewarding recital if you don’t make the mistake of listening to it all at once". Full marks from Klassik Heute., while gives it 4-5-4 (performance-sound-value to repertoire). Gramophone called it "a truly beautiful Handel recording, a disc to give pleasure for years to come". Penguin Guide gave it *** - "a truly distinctive partnership".

"Hallelujah Handel - Choruses from 13 Oratorios". Howard University Chorus; Handel Festival Orchestra of Washington, D.C./Stephen Simon [Arabesque] 13.

No reviews found.

"Sacred arias" - orchestral and vocal excerpts from Saul, Messiah, Solomon, and Theodora. Daniel Taylor (countertenor); Arion/Monica Huggett [Atma] 16. called this "lovely" as well as "imaginative and enjoyable", while Fanfare deemed it "highly recommendable".

Arias from Messiah, Giulio Cesare, Atalanta, Alexander's Feast, Rinaldo, and Samson, plus music by Bach. Arleen Augér (soprano); Mostly Mozart Orchestra/Gerard Schwarz [Delos] 14.

**(*) from the Penguin Guide: "The delicacy with which she tackles the most elaborate divisions and points the words is a delight".

"Handel in Love" - excerpts from Joshua, Samson, Solomon, Jephtha, Saul, Judas Maccabaeus, Messiah, and Belsahzzar. various artists/Jurgen Budday [K&K] 19.

This appears to be a sampler of the various Maulbronn oratorio recordings - see above for reviews of the full sets.

"Beecham conducting Handel". London Philharmonic Orchestra/Thomas Beecham, with Leeds Festival Choir [Past Classics] 11.

Various excerpts from oratorios, plus Beecham's "The Origin of Design" (after Handel), which is incomplete I think. No reviews found.