Handel: Athalia, HWV 52

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LABELS: Deutsche Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Athalia, HWV 52
PERFORMER: Geraldine McGreevy, Nuria Rial (soprano), Lawrence Zazzo (countertenor); Vocal Consort Berlin; Basel CO/Paul Goodwin
CATALOGUE NO: 88697723172

Athalia, first performed in Oxford in 1733 was enthusiastically received, bar the comment by a crusty academic complaining of ‘Handel and (his lowsy Crew) a great number of forreign fidlers’. All current recordings are of this version, perhaps explaining why Paul Goodwin chose Handel’s London revival from 1735.
There were many changes, few of them improvements. Joad was sung by the castrato Carestini, hugely admired but seemingly unwilling to sing in English. His recitatives are mainly in English but his arias are in Italian, and his wife Josabeth briefly proves bi-lingual in a duet with him. A remnant of a discarded casting even has a bass Joad singing in a duet – evidence of Handel’s careless editing.
The final rejoicing is halted for Handel to play an organ concerto before a choral ‘Allejuia’. Such oddities maul the drama, yet it’s strengthened by the integration of the chorus, who provides a da capo repeat to Joad’s first aria, and assumes three successive characters– Virgins, Priests and Levites – and finally ‘Grand Chorus’, to end Part II.
Goodwin’s singers are excellent. Geraldine McGreevy (Athalia) is a powerful tyrant, her final ‘aria di agilità’ an impressive display of bitter disillusion. Nuria Rial makes an alluring Josabeth. The American countertenor, Lawrence Zazzo (Joad), ranges from virtuosity, almost every note on target, (‘Bianco giglio’), to seamless legato (‘Cor fedele’). George Pratt