Handel: Judas Maccabaeus

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Judas Maccabaeus
PERFORMER: Jamie MacDougall, Emma Kirkby, Catherine Denley, Michael George, James Bowman, Simon BirchallChoir of New College Oxford; The King’s Consort/Robert King
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 66641/2 DDD
Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus has been disparaged for its libretto – a ‘decline into claptrap’ – for dramatic weakness and for its militarism. Hear it in the context of the victory celebrations for Culloden, however, and you’ll discover a profusion of colourful delights.

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The King’s Consort, with many of our new, second-generation period instrumentalists, exhibits all the benefits of authentic timbre and texture – there is no need nowadays to make allowances for uneven tone or bad intonation. The New College Choir are spot-on, poignant in mourning, exultant in victory. The whole ensemble is recorded over a wide stereo spectrum which leaves every detail clearly audible.

Emma Kirkby’s ‘Israelitish Woman’ enlivens even the most pedestrian numbers. Catherine Denley contrasts but blends in their five duets, and has great facility over an impressive range. Bowman is superb in ‘Father of Heav’n’. Jamie MacDougall rises to the virtuoso challenge of the warlike hero, and Michael George focuses with no less clarity as Simon.

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Any weaknesses in this, the first ever complete recording, are Handel’s. As a performance, it’s persuasive evidence indeed that what may seem mediocre on the page can spring to life, given the artistry and conviction of performers of this calibre. Excellent – don’t miss it! George Pratt