LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
PERFORMER: Lorraine Hunt, Drew Minter, Jennifer Lane, Jeffrey Thomas, David Thomas; Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, U. C. Berkeley Chamber Chorus/Nicholas McGegan
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907060 62 DDD
In the glorious Indian summer of his career, following hard on the heels of Susanna and Solomon, Handel wrote another dramatic oratorio, Theodora, that contains aria after aria of the most inspired music he ever penned. The heroine of this moralizing tale may be, to quote the eminent Handelian Winton Dean, ‘one of the most insufferable prigs in literature’, but her aria ‘With Darkness, deep’ and duet ‘To Thee, Thou Glorious Son’ have long been desert-island choices of mine.
I wish, therefore, that I could give a warmer welcome to this recording from Nicholas McGegan and his Californian forces, especially as it gives us the work complete for the first time. But the strings of the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra are lightweight, scrawny and fatally lack rhythmic lift and articulation. That and their clipped phrasing make many of the accompaniments seem breathless and superficial at McGegan’s swift tempi.
Drew Minter, as Theodora’s clandestine lover Didymus, does little to improve matters with his inelegantly phrased lines, as does Jennifer Lane with her unsteady, unsurely pitched Irene. Jeffrey Thomas’s sensitivity to nuance nicely reflects the benevolence of the sympathetic Roman officer Septimius, while Lorraine Hunt, in the title role, conjures a marvellously Stygian gloom in ‘With Darkness, deep’.
The latter two performances are not enough to redeem a disappointing set, and Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s recent recording for Teldec remains a safer recommendation. Barry Millington