WORKS: Excerpts from Solomon, Joseph and his Brethren, Joshua, Jephtha & Belshazzar
PERFORMER: John Elwes (tenor); St Luke’s Chamber Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: Z6720
Handel aficionados who exulted in Paul McCreesh’s recent and lavish recording of Solomon, for which he assembled a 50-strong orchestra using period instruments, may well look askance at this disc – With Valour Abounding – which opens with the Solomon overture performed on modern instruments by a chamber group of a dozen players. While I can’t fault the skill or commitment of the St Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, I have to say its project has at times seriously diminished the power and majesty of Handel’s music.
With Valour Abounding takes its programme from Handel’s Old Testament oratorios – Solomon, Joseph and his Brethren, Joshua, Jephta and Belshazzar – and its title from Joshua’s aria ‘Haste, Israel, haste’. The CD comprises a mixture of instrumental selections, chiefly overtures, and recitatives and arias for tenor, sung with sterling conviction by John Elwes. Jephta provides the disc’s strongest moments: the arioso ‘Deeper, and deeper still’ and the arias ‘Open thy marble jaws’ and ‘Waft her, angels’ are among the most moving episodes in Handel’s later dramas, though they do lose some of their impact when taken out of context.
So, despite Elwes’s best efforts, my feeling is that neither the concept nor the performances really do justice to Handel’s music. Graham Lock