Handel: Barockstar

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Arthaus Musik
ALBUM TITLE: A film by Ulrich Meyszies
PERFORMER: Donald Burrows, Alan Curtis, Christopher Hogwood, Andrea Marcon, Martin Wyatt etc (Notes and commentaries)
CATALOGUE NO: 101 375 (NTSC system; Dolby digital 5.1; 16:9 picture format)

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Ulrich Meyszies’s aim is to ‘trace Handel’s biography on a journey through Europe’. He begins with some fascinating detail about the early years: it was new to me that the seeds of Handel’s cosmopolitan nature arose from French immigrant neighbours in Halle. Nor had I seen the magnificent gardens (beautifully photographed) of the Ruspoli summer residence where the composer stayed during the exceptionally influential Italian years. 

The music, fading in and out in frustratingly short fragments, is presented by a star-studded cast. We drop in on rehearsals with Alan Curtis and Il Complesso Barocco, Trevor Pinnock and The English Concert, and singers including Sandrine Piau at her passionate best. Scholarly commentators include Donald Burrows and Christopher Hogwood, shedding authoritative light on Handel the man and on his place in history. 

The film touches on Handel’s unique contribution to opera in England, but then peters out as Meyszies falls headlong into the Messiah trap, dwelling specially on the ‘Halleluia’ chorus. For all its dramatic juxtaposition of Old and New Testaments, Messiah is a one-off, totally unlike the 20-odd theatrical oratorios. Not one is named nor a note heard. Chronology goes sorely awry too: Florence in 1706 is illustrated by an aria from Faramondo of 1737; a talented child, representing the boy Handel at the organ at Weissenfels, plays a Bach chorale prelude published 25 years later. 

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Bonuses expand some of the interviews in the main film and add a far-fetched link with Jimi Hendrix. Sound with English text is good, though stereo only. George Pratt