Handel: Hercules

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: DG Archiv
WORKS: Hercules
PERFORMER: Gidon Saks, Anne Sofie von Otter, Richard Croft, Lynne Dawson, David Daniels, Marcos Pujol; Les Musiciens du Louvre & Choir/Marc Minkowski
CATALOGUE NO: 469 532-2
Handel composed Hercules in 1744, hard on the heels of the first performances of Semele. He termed neither piece an oratorio, preferring, in the case of Hercules, to call it a musical drama. The public received its first performances in 1745 so indifferently that Handel offered to reimburse his subscribers with three-quarters of their outlay. There were, however, three revivals of Hercules during the remaining 15 years of the composer’s life, but it never achieved the popularity of Samson, which had been premiered in the previous year. Notwithstanding its ill-fortune in Handel’s lifetime, the work, centrally concerned with Dejanira’s jealousy at her husband Hercules’s suspected infidelity, is one of immense power, musical grandeur and psychological tension.

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Marc Minkowski, as well as being a committed Handelian, is achieving performances of increasing conviction. Faster tempi are less frenetic than they used to be, rhythms are supple and buoyant and most of the choral singing is very good indeed. The solo cast is mainly strong, though I found Gidon Saks’s Hercules sometimes tonally unfocused, but there are outstanding contributions from Anne Sofie von Otter (Dejanira) and Lynne Dawson as Iole, the source of Dejanira’s jealousy. Their beautiful Act II duet, with its subtle unaccompanied passage, is affectingly sung. Les Musiciens du Louvre plays neatly and with its accustomed tonal warmth, enlivening the noble Overture and, above all, perhaps, the Act III Sinfonia, a portentous piece of great moment. Nicholas Anderson