COMPOSERS: Handel,Maurice Greene
WORKS: The Choice of Hercules
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton (soprano), Alice Coote (mezzo-soprano), Robin Blaze (countertenor), Charles Daniels (tenor), Peter Harvey (bass); The King’s Consort & Choir/Robert King
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67298
The Choice of Hercules, whose text is adapted from a poem by Robert Lowth, an Oxford professor of poetry, is a dramatic cantata which Handel performed in 1751 between the acts of his ode Alexander’s Feast. As Anthony Hicks explains in his lucid background note, much of the music was rescued from Alceste, a play by Smollett, whose production was abandoned during rehearsal in 1750. The ‘choice’ confronting Hercules lies between pleasure and virtue, a subject which had already attracted Bach in Leipzig 18 years earlier. Both follow the dramatic cantata format, Bach’s version – whose text is by Picander – containing music which was to feature in his Christmas Oratorio the following year (1734).
It must be admitted, on this occasion at least, that Handel’s consummate dramatic sense makes his version of the tale the more consistently satisfying. A stylish performance of the piece is long overdue and Robert King has chosen an appealing group of soloists to realise an attractive score. Most of the airs are solo numbers but there is a trio and many short choruses, too. Hercules, it need hardly be said, opts in the end for Virtue, notwithstanding alluring blandishments from Pleasure. The disc also includes a pleasing anthem for soloists, chorus, woodwind and strings by Handel’s English contemporary Maurice Greene. Nicholas Anderson