WORKS: Dixit Dominus; Salve regina; Nisi Dominus
PERFORMER: Scholars Baroque Ensemble
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553208
Handel’s spontaneity and enthusiasm during his time in Italy, from 1706 to 1710, were never exceeded – perhaps never matched – in his remaining 40 years. Dixit Dominus is his first surviving choral work, yet from the flashing orchestral opening, through the unpredictably winding brook of ‘De torrente’ to the thrilling exuberance of the Gloria, his sureness of touch allows imagination full rein. Despite some more polished offerings in 1988, I was attracted to the raw energy of Simon Preston’s Archiv forces, the vital tone of the Westminster Abbey boys, the slightly rough edges of the (unnamed) period instrument orchestra.
These two new performances could hardly differ more from each other. The Naxos recording is super-lean: the Scholars sing one-to-a-part with single strings, a transparency which allows great clarity and pace – the opening ‘chorus’ verges on hysteria while the syllabic opening of ‘Tu es sacerdos’ acquires the verbal agility of a patter song. Handel’s contrasts of texture – soloists/chorus – are lost, though individually the soloists are appealing, notably soprano Kym Amps in ‘Tecum principium’.
The Swiss/Italian Radio recording is of a live performance, including applause. In the resonance of the church acoustic (enhancing the grandeur of the Te Deum), the 19 voices colour details to excess: every figure and phrase is subjected to an expressive nuance, intriguing at first hearing, but soon palling and becoming mannered. Among some magical moments are the opening of ‘De torrente’, a stream of dripping staccato strings below the gently decorated solo sopranos.
Both recordings reveal unexpected facets, but neither moves my 12-year benchmark with its bonus of the most beautiful Nisi Dominus on disc. George Pratt