Handel: Alexander's Feast | CD review

Sämann/Schoch/Mertens/Junge Kantorei/Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra/Martini

The Handel anniversary may be over, but recordings of his music thankfully continue to proliferate. Alexander's Feast is the latest addition to Joachim Carlos Martini and the Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra's series of oratorios for Naxos. It's a brave, but not always successful, attempt at a difficult work. Setting a text by Dryden, the piece examines the ambivalent nature of music and its power to provoke extremes of desire, heroism, political violence and religious devotion. The performance is characterised by an austerity of tone that speaks volumes in the closing sections, when worldliness gives way to spirituality, but keeps us at arm's length earlier on, when we should be developing a complicity – first emotional then moral – in Handel's complex evocations of sensuality and militarism. The live recording means that the tenor and bass soloists, Knut Schoch and Klaus Mertens, take a while to warm up, and there are a couple of tentative choral entries from the otherwise excellent Junge Kantorei. The playing is spare, stylish and beautiful. Listen out, meanwhile, for silver-toned soprano Gerlinde Sämann, new to me, but a real find on this showing.


Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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