Handel: Nabal

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Nabal
PERFORMER: Stephan MacLeod (bass), Maya Boog, Francine van der Heijden, Linda Perillo (soprano), Knut Schoch (tenor); Junge Kantorei, Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra/Joachim Carlos Martini
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555276-77
‘Handel: Nabal – Oratorio in Three Acts’, proclaims the booklet cover. Don’t get too excited, though. Most of the music is indeed genuine Handel. But far from being a sensational new discovery, Nabal is a pasticcio concocted a few years after the master’s death by his musical assistant John Christopher Smith the younger. Capitalising on the public craze for Handelian oratorio, Smith commissioned a new text – based on a particularly repulsive episode in Samuel I – and plundered the operas, oratorios and anthems for the music. Smith himself provided the distinctly underwhelming recitatives and, presumably, the one aria that can’t be identified as by Handel, a pretty trifle in the newly fashionable galant style. Inevitably, the resulting pseudo-oratorio is a non-starter as drama, with a sometimes ludicrous mismatch between words and music. As an eclectic cross-section of Handel’s works, with the emphasis on easy pastoral tunefulness, Nabal has its points, I suppose, though if you value the composer as one of the world’s supreme musical dramatists, you may want to give it a wide berth.

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No serious complaints about the performance, recorded at a concert in Eberbach Cloister in the Rhineland. The choir sounds a tad fuzzy in the abbey acoustic. But the orchestral playing is stylish, and the young, fresh-toned soloists all do well, especially the Dutch soprano Francine van der Heijden, who gives a beautifully shaped account of the exquisite aria that started life as ‘Verdi prati’ in Alcina. Richard Wigmore