This is the third English Oratorio by Handel, composed in 1733 for the graduation ceremony at Oxford. It is in 3 acts to a libretto by Samuel Humphreys after the stage drama Athalie by Jean Racine. Incidentally, this was Racine's last tragedy penned in 1691. This biblical account taken from Kings 2, centres on the theme of the triumph of God through the revenge performed by his followers on those who blaspheme and oppose him.
Written in the summer of 1749, Theodora was premiered in London at Covent Garden Theatre on 16 March 1750. This work, which Handel considered his finest oratorio, was a failure at first - Handel said bitterly that the hall was so empty that "there was room enough to dance there." Part of this failure could be explained by the earthquake that hit London in February of the same year and caused the upper classes to flee the city, but another possibility is that the subject matter of the oratorio - the rebellion of a woman against the power of the state - was a bit ahead of its time.
The story of the innocent Susanna–whose nude bathing in a stream so excited two elders in her community that they charged her with all sorts of dirty things–is from the Apocrypha. Near the story's close, the young Israelite Daniel, clearly a budding lawyer, disproves the elders' claims by having each explain certain details without the other in the room. (In the Carlisle Floyd version, there's a twist, and the ending is horrifyingly different.) The story, as Handel and his unknown librettist tell it, takes more than two and a half hours. What we get in place of nail-biting drama is a marvelous portrait of the chaste Susanna, her trusting husband, Joacim, and the lascivious elders. There's also a great concentration on the plot's rural setting. Arias are filled with nature–Handel offers us a lovely pastoral setting, with a could-be-tragic story at its core; but neither Nature nor Susanna's good nature wind up sullied. This is a beautiful performance of the work, led by Peter Neumann with tenderness and, when required, with great verve. Neumann makes only a few cuts, equaling about 10 minutes and approved by Handel for the work's 1759 revival.(Robert Levine)
Helmuth Rilling is an excellent conductor and interpreter of Bach's sacred music. Recorded from 1969 to 1985, over a longer period of time than most other sets, there is a lot of change throughout the series. Rilling's recordings are more dense and lush than others, and his tempi are often slower than HIP recordings - no "original instruments" for Rilling. But he creates such a detailed sound-world that any fan of these works should want to hear Rilling's versions to compare with others. This said, Rilling often uses a technique that I find a bit disturbing. He'll have one instrument or group of instruments sequestered to one track, and others on the other track, giving a sound similar to that of early Beatles' stereo mixes, where vocals were on one track and instruments on the other. This is something you never hear in live performance; while one instrument may be on one side, you still hear it on the other side. This tends to make some of the movements sound as though there's no blend among the singers and musicians.(Kirk McElhearn)
Schon bei seiner Gründung 1962 hatten es sich Collegium Aureum als Ziel gesetzt, alte Musik auf historischen Instrumenten aufzuführen. Während der langen Zeit seines Bestehens veröffentlichte das Ensemble zahlreiche erfolgreiche LPs und CDs und konzertierte in den großen Konzertsälen ganz Europas.
This really was quite a fine recording of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, one of the best in years and easily the best of the early music recordings. The Choeur de la Chapelle Royale et du Collegium Vocale sing with strength and stamina, but also with grace and beauty of tone. The Champs Elysees Orchestra plays with power and precision, but also with unity of ensemble and beauty of tone, a very rare quality in an early music orchestra. And Herreweghe himself is actually an apt interpreter of the work. Not only does he have a knack for bringing out better than the best in his performers, but he actually seems to believe in the spiritual and sublime essence of the work, a very, very rare quality in any conductor these days. The result is a performance which, while it doesn't rival the 1940 Toscanini, the 1965 Klemperer, or the 1974 Böhm, does express the overwhelming sense that the numinous is imminent. Harmonia Mundi's sound is rich and vibrant.- James Leonard
"…If Collegium Musicum 90 plays with a brisk efficiency that can seem a touch unyielding, the singing is mostly a delight. Susan Gritton, as the willful Cleonilla, is excellent, as is Nancy Argenta's Caio, who is given the most striking arias…"
There are many other highly recommendable recordings by Collegium Musicum 90 under Simon Standage on the Chandos early music label, Chaconne. If you’ve heard a reasonable cross-section of the music of Vivaldi and would like to experiment with some of his near-contemporaries, their recording of Alessandro Marcello’s six Violin Concertos, Op.6, known as ‘La Cetra’, together with an extra Concerto in B-flat, would be a good place to start.
A contemporary of Tomaso Albinoni, Alessandro Marcello was the son of a senator in Venice. As such, he enjoyed a comfortable life that gave him the scope to pursue his interest in music. He held concerts in his hometown and also composed and published several sets of concertos, including six concertos under the title of La Cetra (The Lyre), as well as cantatas, arias, canzonets, and violin sonatas.
This recording is, quite frankly, a marvel. In the opening bars of the Kyrie, where tradition dictates a powerful, agonized cry for mercy, Philippe Herreweghe offers a gentle, awestruck plea that took this listener's breath away. Extroverted movements like the Gloria, Et resurrexit, and Sanctus lack nothing in excitement; Qui tollis and Dona nobis pacem feel like fervent prayers. Herreweghe's luminous Collegium Vocale and skillful, sensitive instrumentalists make every gesture, large and small, seem exactly right. The soloists have attractive voices that blend with the period instruments and each other; while each is exquisite, tenor Christoph Prégardien and alto Andreas Scholl are magnificent. Underlying the entire performance is a sense of contemplative wonder that suits this deeply religious music perfectly.-Matthew Westphal