Jephtha (1752) was George Frederick Handel's final oratorio, and it was composed during a period of incipient blindness and declining health. Yet the composer's artistic powers were undiminished in this dramatization of the Biblical story, for the arias and choruses are as memorable as any from Handel's earlier works in the genre, including Messiah and Israel in Egypt. This 2008 recording by Fabio Biondi, the Collegium Vocale Ghent, and the Stavanger Symphony Orchestra is a brilliant period presentation, and the spry rhythms, lean counterpoint, clear textures, and distinctive colors of original instruments combine to make this an especially enjoyable performance of a fairly neglected masterpiece.
The plot of "Jephtha" is based, with alterations, on Chapter XI of Judges. This begins, "Now Jephtha the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of a harlot." He was disinherited by his half-brothers, the sons of Gilead's legitimate wife, and went into exile, becoming a kind of outlaw leader. Now the Israelites, including [hose of Gilead, who have been following Mrange gods, are being oppressed by the Ammonites. [/quote]
This BBC Proms concert, titled A Handel Celebration, commemorates the 250th anniversary of Handel’s death and the 30th anniversary of the founding of The Sixteen, which got its name from the fact that the original chorus had 16 members. The forces used here are a bit larger than those Harry Christophers usually employs. The mixed-voice chorus numbers 30, and the orchestra is listed at 42 members, although it does not appear that they are all onstage at the same time.
Does music add substance to words or is music inspired by them? Songs of departure and farewell are deeply rooted in the great tradition of British choral music, nourished by ancient myths of testing journeys, wayside transformations and homecomings. The transcendent nature of music and the power of poetry to challenge and alter perceptions of reality – harnessed by English composers over many centuries – flow through a programme that invites contemplation of life and death, of love and loss, creation and eternity. In a journey covering six centuries of musical history, The Sixteen performs a cappella anthems with powerful texts by writers as varied as Edmund Spenser, Christopher Fry and W.H. Auden.
The Sixteen adds to its stunning Handel collection with a brand new recording of Dixit Dominus set alongside a little know treasure - Agostino Steffani’s Stabat Mater. Full of virtuosity, vibrant colour and dynamic energy, Handel’s Dixit Dominus captures absolutely the Italian style of the period. Handel’s control of forces is masterly and the range of texture and style is breathtaking. Written during the composer’s time in Italy in the early eighteenth century it is amongst his first autographed works and also one of his finest. By comparison Agostino Steffani’s little known Stabat Mater was one of his last compositions. Written for the Academy of Vocal Music in London, this work is the most powerful expression of Steffani’s religious fervour and, outside opera, his largest, most varied and most heartfelt composition.
Acclaimed countertenor Iestyn Davies and The King’s Consort perform an outstanding programme of Handel arias from some of the composer’s finest oratorios. Eleven varied solo arias include ‘O sacred oracles of truth’, the delicate ‘Tune your harps’, ‘Eternal source of light’ (with supreme trumpet playing from Crispian Steele-Perkins), the melodious ‘Your tuneful voice’ and the virtuoso ‘Mighty love now calls to arm’, as well as rarities including ‘On the valleys, dark and cheerless’ and an especial jewel, ‘Mortals think that Time is sleeping’.
Giustino is the Baroque version of a ‘ripping yarn’. The eponymous hero rises from ploughboy to emperor via an action-packed curriculum vitae that has him seeing visions, routing traitors, fighting bears and even slaying a sea-monster! Written in the autumn of 1736, shortly after Handel had suffered a period of ill-health, Giustino is not among his greatest operas, but it is thoroughly entertaining and offers much fine music. Particularly felicitous are Giustino’s bucolic aria ‘Può ben nascere tra li boschi’ and Anastasio’s lovely ‘O fiero e rio sospetto’. The headlong pace leaves Handel little time to develop the more sensual, amorous side of his music. One exception – and the opera’s most entrancing interlude – is the ravishing love duet in Act II, superbly sung here by Dorothea Röschmann (Arianna) and Dawn Kotoski (Anastasio). Michael Chance too is outstanding in the title role, proving that even countertenors can exude machismo. Nicholas McGegan coaxes a stylish performance from the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra. Giustino is the fourth Handel opera he has now recorded following a staging at the Göttingen Festival and this is his most assured reading to date. Mention in the credits of a Bear Growl Advisor suggests a commendable attention to grizzly detail. (Graham Lock)