Handel: Great Oratorio Duets: excerpts from Jephtha, Belshazzar, Esther, Theodora, Saul

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: BIS SACD
ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Great Oratorio Duets: excerpts from Jephtha, Belshazzar, Esther, Theodora, Saul
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson (soprano), Robin Blaze (countertenor); OAE/Nicholas Kraemer
CATALOGUE NO: 1436
The duets selected here from Handel’s oratorios regularly fall into the pattern of a pair of lovers singing sweet nothings to one another, though there are departures from the formula. For instance, there’s the maternal Nitocris finding her son’s conqueror Cyrus surprisingly supportive in Belshazzar, or the Christian martyrs Didymus and Theodora buoying up each other’s resolve in the oratorio named after the latter. The most dramatic is from Saul, where David’s lover Michal warns him to flee the crazed monarch in music quite different from that in which he reassures her that everything is going to be just fine.

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Together they form an attractive programme, especially when the two voices are as well blended and as perfectly in tune as Carolyn Sampson’s and Robin Blaze’s. Her graceful, pearly soprano is nicely matched by his mellifluous counter-tenor, marred only by an occasional bulge of tone in the higher register.

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Nicholas Kraemer and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment provide well-schooled accompaniments, even if there’s a slight want of movement in places. But whether the mood is languid and sensual, as in Solomon, spiritual (Theodora) or consolatory (the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne), the performances, as well as Handel’s music, are entirely apt. George Hall