Steven Isserlis and Richard Egarr here assemble all the viola da gamba sonatas written by three composers born in the propitious year of 1685: one each by Handel and Domenico Scarlatti, and three by JS Bach. Isserlis plays them on the gamba’s modern cousin, the cello, and the microphone loves his playing, picking up all the nuances and scampering asides from his soft-spoken instrument which can sometimes get lost in big concert halls. Egarr on harpsichord matches Isserlis’s eloquence and rambunctious energy all the way. The dreamy, airy slow movement of Bach’s Sonata in G minor brings telling use of vibrato as Isserlis circles around Egarr, his playing at once idiomatic and soulful. An extra cellist reinforces the bass line in the Handel and Scarlatti, in which the composers give the harpsichordist only a framework; Egarr’s imaginative realisations ensure that even when Scarlatti is at his most repetitive, he is never dull.
This Decca Classics release is the first ever complete recording of Arminio, with only one previous incomplete performance available. Described by one contemporary commentator as a miracle, and another as in every respect excellent & vastly pleasing, Arminio is ripe for reappraisal and new presentation.
I do think that this Decca set is arguably the best compilation reissue of such a bulk of Handel work which has been released in a long time, just in time to commemorate the two hundred fiftieth anniversary of the passing of il caro Sassone. There is a lot in this box, absence of libretti notwithstanding. The enclosed booklet is essential to navigate you through the track listings and timings and little else but a small general essay on GFH.By John Van Note
Handel's first Oratorio. Esther has a simple story plot. Very, very simple. Jewish folk are real excited because their Queen Esther has been made queen to the Persian king, Ahasuerus. No sooner than they are married, the king's high priest proclaims that all Jews must be put to death. The first few scenes go back and forth between Jewish and Persian camps declaring destruction of the other team. Finally Esther goes to see her husband. Overcome with her beauty, he tells her that the decree wasn't meant to include her. She tells husband that destroying her people is to destroy her. Husband sees the error of his ways, and drags the high priest in for an accounting of ways. He apologizes profusely, but Esther sees through his alligator tears, he's executed, and everyone stands around singing praises to Jehovah God. The end. In Seven scenes, the whole oratorio clocks in at 1 hour and 37 minutes flat.
Christopher Hogwood conducts the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and a distinguished cast including Danielle de Niese and Charles Workman in Wayne McGregor's new production of Handel's opera in which The Royal Opera and The Royal Ballet appear in a rare and beautifully crafted collaboration. Filmed with High Definition cameras and recorded in true surround sound.
Renée Fleming and Andreas Scholl lead a superb cast in Stephen Wadsworth’s celebrated production of Handel’s Rodelinda from the Metropolitan Opera – based on the "Live in HD" transmission to cinemas worldwide. The title role is unique in featuring no less than eight magnificent arias. Renée Fleming’s triumph in the first run of the production was hailed by The New York Times, "Ms Fleming draws on every resource of her artistry in this portrayal: luminous sound, exquisite ornamentation, floating high notes, emotional volatility."
"…De Niese is discreet in her ornamentation of the da capo arias; in the laments, she is particularly sensitive, avoiding inappropriate vocal displays out of character with the grief expressed in the music. William Christie conducts Les Arts Florissants in a bravura performance that's both crisp and nuanced. Decca's sound is deep, warm, and clean. De Niese's spectacular recital should be of interest to fans of Baroque opera, and of intelligent, emotionally honest coloratura singing." ~AMG
…The Queen Anne Ode is a solemn piece, again, a real pleasure to listen to, but not exactly a memorable showstopper. If you are a fan of Hogwood, as am I, this is a must have CD. Nothing he ever did is a complete wash, and this collection a far cry from it. This is Vintage Hogwood. Call it "Early Original Instrument."