Handel: Arias from Belshazzar, Semele, Theodora, Saul, Jephtha & Messiah

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: Arias from Belshazzar, Semele, Theodora, Saul, Jephtha & Messiah
PERFORMER: David Daniels (countertenor); Ensemble Orchestral de Paris/John Nelson
CATALOGUE NO: VC 5 45497 2
This recital principally consists of alto arias that Handel intended to be sung by male characters (although he composed the roles of Cyrus and Daniel in Belshazzar for female singers). Six of the arias on this disc were even first created for countertenors. Unexpected choices like the awesome ‘Oh sacred oracles of truth’ (Belshazzar) sit comfortably alongside familiar items such as ‘O Lord whose mercies numberless’ (Saul), though the omission of the latter’s crucial harp solo is criminal. Daniels displays astute awareness of each aria’s dramatic context, even if his vowels are occasionally awkward (‘coeur-idge’ instead of ‘courage’ in ‘Kind Heaven’ from Theodora), and ornamentation sometimes loses direction (there is a particularly regrettable ad libitum in the da capo of ‘The raptured soul’ from Theodora). John Nelson ensures that the modern-instrument Ensemble Orchestral de Paris is adequately stylish, yet the allegedly fast aria ‘Despair no more shall wound me’ (Semele) is too hurried. It is a shame that blunt orchestral playing in ‘Destructive war’ (Belshazzar) fails to maximise the aria’s rhetorical message of enlightened heroism. While this recital is hardly a revelatory experience and the booklet essay is misleading, fans of both the singer and the composer will probably be satisfied enough. David Vickers