Handel

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Somm
ALBUM TITLE: Esther (1732 version)
PERFORMER: Rosemary Joshua (soprano), Susan Bickley (mezzo-soprano), James Bowman (countertenor), Andrew Kennedy (tenor), Christopher Purves (bass); London Handel Choir & Orchestra/Laurence Cummings
CATALOGUE NO: SOMMCD 238-9
Esther was not only Handel’s first English oratorio, but also the first oratorio written in England. Originally composed in 1718-20 for Cannons, the Edgware home of the Duke of Chandos, it clearly had some currency after that. Handel himself revived it in expanded form in London in 1732. It is this version, without any later additions, which is recorded here live (in 2002) at St George’s, Hanover Square.

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The live performance inevitably has some untidiness. The acoustic allows the music space to breathe but the overall perspective is distant. Laurence Cummings emphasises the music’s dramatic quality and generally paces it well, though some sections are ponderous. Rosemary Joshua in the title role sings the text as vividly as she does the notes. Christopher Purves is striking as the genocidal Haman. Susan Bickley’s Mordecai sounds pleasantly mellow in her arias, apart from some choppy phrasing, but is tepid in the recitatives. James Bowman is mellifluous if lacking in punch as Ahasuerus, while Rebecca Outram’s Israelite Woman is effortful.

While this is the only recording of the 1732 text, that by The Sixteen under Harry Christophers remains the leading contender of those providing the earlier version.

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George Hall