Handel: Samson

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: Samson
PERFORMER: Lynda Russell, Lynne Dawson (soprano), Catherine Wyn-Rogers (alto), Thomas Randle, Mark Padmore (tenor), Michael George, Jonathan Best (bass)The Sixteen, The Symphony of Harmony and Invention/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: 70382
By 1743 and Samson, Handel had abandoned Italian opera for ever. Paradoxically, freedom from its conventions allowed him greater realism, on the imaginary stage at least. Fewer da capo arias, characters remaining on stage after singing them, a chorus integrated as protagonists and within complex musical structures such as the Requiem after Samson’s death – all these generate powerful and moving drama from Newburgh Hamilton’s relatively static adaptation, via Milton, of the Old Testament story. The imagined stage set is unchanged throughout: a messenger reports Samson’s destruction of the Philistines’ temple and his consequent suicide. Yet the emotional pace accelerates – towards the end the musical numbers are shorter and more urgent – and the characters become ever more vivid as their varied facets are revealed.

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Christophers’s singers reflect and develop their roles superbly. Randle, as Samson (a tenor hero, unusual for Handel), is heart-rending in ‘Total Eclipse’, the aria which moved Handel himself to tears in his own years of blindness. George reflects the loving paternal care of Manoa; Wyn-Rogers’s reassuring Micah is deeply expressive. Dalila (Russell), her ‘am’rous moan’, like a turtle dove’s, scorned, reverts to ‘a serpent manifest’ in her parting duet, she and Samson united only in their mutual detestation. Best’s steely voice perfectly portrays the braggart Harapha, (derided by Samson as ‘thou bulk, of spirit void’!).

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The Sixteen, hedonistic Philistines and devout Israelites, are ardent and precise as ever, matched by outstanding instrumental playing, from the dizzying horns of the Overture to the coruscating final duet between trumpet and soprano, ‘Let the bright Seraphim’. With sensitive engineering in an inviting acoustic, this is dramatic Handel as fine as any on record. George Pratt