- George Frideric Handel - A Man of His Time [Recommended Recordings]
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George Frideric Handel
Recommended Recordings

Handel: Alcina
(Natalie Dessay, Renée Fleming, Susan Graham, et al.; Les Arts Florissants; William Christie, conductor)
With her portrayal of Handel's sorceress Alcina, Renee Fleming scores yet another triumph--and so do her colleagues Susan Graham and Natalie Dessay. One moment seems to top the next as Handel offers aria after aria loaded with exquisite melody. For all of its absurdities of plot, this baroque opera comes deliciously alive in the wise, stylish hands of conductor William Christie and will be considered a cornerstone in the reconsideration of Handel opera currently underway.

Handel: Saul
(Joachim Martini, Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra, et al. )
If your familiarity with Handel's oratorios is limited to "Messiah," try this fast-moving and very human work based on the biblical story of Saul's jealousy toward David. This is an excellent recording that conveys the dramatic sweep of Handel's rich music, which includes several fascinating instrumental effects.

Handel: Solomon
(Paul Agnew, Susan Bickley, et al.; Gabrieli Consort, Gabrieli Players; Paul McCreesh, conductor )
This complete, uncut account of one of Handel's greatest biblical oratorios is, quite frankly, a must-have for fans of the baroque--indeed, of magnificent and thrilling music, period. Under Paul McCreesh's direction, and with star countertenor Andreas Scholl in the title role headlining a splendid group of soloists, "Solomon" comes to brilliant life in an acoustic setting that particularly enhances the experience.

Handel: Theodora
(Paul Agnew, Susan Bickley, et al; Gabrieli Consort, Gabrieli Players; Paul McCreesh, conductor)
One of the musical pleasures of a new year is the end of "Messiah" performances, at least until Easter. While Handel's most famous oratorio is a work I can't imagine life without, it has overshadowed other oratorios every bit as great, as Paul McCreesh's new recording of the composer's 1750 "Theodora" makes clear.

What this recording has over Nicholas McGegan's equally masterly version (on Harmonia Mundi) is a carefully prepared new edition and, in McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort and Players, a more polished band than the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra and as strong an interpretation. It lacks Lorraine Hunt's heart-rending account of the title role for McGegan, but Susan Gritton sings with feeling as well as a strong technique. Susan Bickley's Irene steals this show with singing of affecting limpidity--and gets the last word. McCreesh has yet to make a bad recording, but he really gets under the skin of this tricky piece.

L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato
(Ian Bostridge, Christine Brandes, et al.; Bach Choir, Orchestre de Paris Ensemble, et al.; John Nelson, conductor)
A bridge work between the operas of the first phase of Handel's phenomenal career and the oratorios of the last, "L'Allegro" is one of his brightest and most immediately appealing works. Although musical settings of texts from Milton's great poems (boldly interspersed by librettist and composer) and Charles Jennens's own summation ("Il Moderato") wouldn't suggest a work as dramatic as this, Handel's untiring feel for the theatrical in all his great music revels in Milton's rich imagery, particularly the evocations of nature.

John Nelson and his Ensemble Orchestral de Paris and Bach Choir make the most of this affective as well as effective music, and the vocal cast is exemplary. Tenor Ian Bostridge gets the literal first word and the work's single funniest passage ("Laughter holding both his sides"), but fellow stars David Daniels, Christine Brandes, Lynne Dawson, and Alastair Miles conspire to make this the clear recording of choice.


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