WORKS: Esther; Oboe Sonata in G minor
PERFORMER: Lynda Russell, Nancy Argenta (soprano), Michael Chance (countertenor), Thomas Randle, Mark Padmore (tenor), Michael George (bass), Anthony Robson (oboe); The Sixteen, Orchestra of the Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CATALOGUE NO: 70402 DDD
Esther was the first English oratorio and Handel’s earliest essay at the genre that would come to dominate his later years. Though its origins remain unclear, it seems likely that the piece was composed in 1718, its experimental status evident from a lopsided structure that packs most of the action and much of the best music into its closing scenes. Esther also marked Handel’s initial attempts at giving the chorus a major role, most notably in the climactic ‘The Lord our enemy has slain’, an expansive rondo accompanied by thrilling solo trumpet.
I’ve been disappointed by some of Harry Christophers’s previous Handel recordings and I’m afraid his Esther also leaves me largely unimpressed. There are good things here – Mark Padmore and Michael Chance are excellent, the choruses are sung with admirable precision – but the overall effect is of polish at the expense of passion. Even the sound, though clear, seems curiously flat. Christopher Hogwood’s 1984 recording for L’Oiseau-Lyre has far more dramatic flair and a stronger set of soloists in the central roles of Esther, Ahasuerus and Haman (Patrizia Kwella, Anthony Rolfe Johnson and David Thomas respectively). In comparison this new Esther, though slickly executed, is characterless and less affecting. Graham Lock