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A concert celebrating the 80th birthday of composer Howard Blake. Programmes include: Mozart Piano Concerto No. Brahms String Sextet No. Programmes include: Beethoven Symphony No. Programmes include: Mendelssohn Symphony No. Beethoven Coriolan Overture, Op. Programmes include: Schubert Octet in F major, D. Programme includes: M. Brahms Sextet No.

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Programmes include: Mozart Symphony No. Bach Violin Concerto No. Tour programmes include: Beethoven Symphony No. Also known as Actus Tragicus , this cantata was likely written for a funeral service. Ferruccio Busoni , a legendary gure from the golden age of composer-pianists, is also recognized as a major contributor to Bach scholarship for his editions of the keyboard works for modern piano.

Busoni published these in as part of his collection of arrangements of ten Chorale Preludes by Bach. The instant the pen seizes it, the idea loses its original form. The very intention to write down the idea, compels a choice of measure and key.

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Dinnerstein additionally has spiced her program of Bach concertos and arrangements with contemporary music influenced by Bach. Dinnerstein has long collaborated with Philip Lasser , a member of the faculty at the Juilliard School. Often, during breaks in our rehearsals she would sit down at the piano and try to play through some of them. As wonderful a violinist as she was, she was not a very good pianist. The succession of charming miniatures is interrupted in the middle of Part 2 by more substantial items and a blaze of brilliant coloratura from several soloists.

The final chorus in Part 2, a fugue with four subjects, is sublime, but he did not bother himself unduly with the final chorus in Part 3. But in general this is very likeable music, its charm, conciseness and emphasis on word-painting unlike anything else in Handel. The sound quality is very good. The opening scenes, then, are done more lustily, in two senses, than usual. The singing and playing of Timotheus inspire Alexander to drunkenness, pity, love and revenge, one after the other.

What has this to do with the patron saint of music, you might well ask? The Sixteen actually 18, with two extra sopranos and an all-male alto line are a little lightweight in the grander choruses but they sing with precision and unforced tone. The orchestration is a constant delight. In some of the solo numbers Handel uses only violins and continuo; elsewhere he introduces a solo cello, a trumpet obbligato, recorders and horns. All these opportunities are seized with relish by the Symphony of Harmony and Invention.

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In an unsuitable church acoustic, Harry Christophers sets unfailingly suitable tempi. And to add to our delight he includes the concertos detailed above that are integral to the piece. We have had several chances since then to hear the work, as well as its predecessors, and the judgement stands up well. Athalia , composed for Oxford in to a libretto that draws on Racine's play, tells the story of the usurping, apostate Jewish queen, Athalia, and her overthrow when the prophet Joad and his wife Josabeth bring the true heir, the boy Joas, to the throne.

The action is pretty feebly handled by Handel's librettist, Samuel Humphreys in particular it is never made clear what actually happens to Athalia in the end, or why ; but several of the characters are quite strong and Handel grasps the opportunities offered him for striking music. Athalia herself fares best of all, musically, as one would expect; and it was a brilliant stroke of imagination to ask Dame Joan Sutherland to take this role in the present recording. She is of course a great Handelian, but is scarcely a figure one expects to see in early-music circles.

In the event, the slight disparity of approach between her and the other members of the cast serves ideally to symbolize the separation of Athalia from her fellow-Israelites, putting her, as it were, on a different plane. Dame Joan uses more vibrato than the others in the cast, but the singing is truly magnificent in its grandeur and its clear, bell-like, perfectly focused tone. The sound is rather large against the baroque flute very sweetly and gracefully played and upper strings in 'Softest sounds'', her first aria, but better that than an unnatural, contrived balance.

Just before this comes Athalia's entry, an extraordinary sequence with her tortured recitatives interrupted by the Baalites' choruses designed to cheer her up: the music is in Handel's best carefree-heathen vein ; Dame Joan is superb in the relating of her dream where her mother Jezebel appears to her.


Athalia's part is not in fact a large one, with only two full-length arias; the second, ''My vengeance awakes me'', is an energetic piece which she throws off with enormous spirit even if the ornamentation goes beyond the well-judged stylistic limits observed elsewhere in the set. Among the rest, Emma Kirkby is in her very best form, singing coolly, with poised musicianship, and with quite astonishing technical command at times. Listen to ''Through the land'', in Act 2, where the voice is beautifully balanced with two recorders and violins, the passage-work perfectly placed, the oddly shaped phrases pitched with absolute sureness, the thrilling a delight.

Her Act 1 aria ''Faithful cares'' is finely done too in spite of a hint of clumsiness in the accompaniment once or twice James Bowman, as Joad, has his moments, and always sounds well, but I have heard him sing with more warmth and imagination. David Thomas is dependable in the often very vigorous music for the priest, Abner; and as Athalia's priest, Mathan, Anthony Rolfe Johnson sings in shapely fashion.

The boy Joas is sung, as it should be, by a boy, in this case Aled Jones, who gives a very controlled, very exact performance, perhaps rather careful but of intense tonal beauty. I found the choral singing a little variable. At its best, for example in the chorus that opens the Second Act, it is first rate, spirited, forthright, accurate and the recorded sound in this particular number seems to me outstanding in its perspective, brightness and clarity. Also first rate is the fine chorus ''Rejoice, O Judah'' that ends Act 2.

But in certain of the others there is an air of the routine, and the result is wanting in character and expressive force. These are however small, perfectionist quibbles: as a whole these two discs, excellently recorded, give an admirable and often striking realization of a work with many choice things, and I warmly recommend it. This is a particularly welcome and important world premiere recording. This slender work, containing only six scenes, lays a strong claim to being the first English oratorio, but Handel seems not to have considered performing it for a public audience until , when the entrepreneurial composer thoroughly revised the score to fit his company of Italian opera singers including Senesino, Strada and Montagnana, who all sang in English , and enlisted the aid of the writer Samuel Humphreys to expand the drama with additional scenes.

Laurence Cummings is one of our finest and most natural Handelian conductors. This first part is predominantly slow, grave music, powerfully elegiac; the Taverner Choir shows itself to be firm and clean of line, well focused and strongly sustained. The chorus has its chance to be more energetic in the second part, with the famous and vivid Plague choruses — in which the orchestra too plays its part in the pictorial effects, with the fiddles illustrating in turn frogs, flies and hailstones. Be that as it may, the effect is splendid.

But not before the tragic situation has provoked some of the noblest music Handel wrote. This recording does the work full justice. It could scarcely have been better cast.


Nigel Robson seems ideal as Jephtha. He has due weight as well as vigour, style as well as expressive force. Her firm, well focused, unaffected singing is just right for this role. The other outstanding contribution comes from Michael Chance as Hamor, her unfortunate betrothed. Ruth Holton makes a pleasantly warm and mellifluous angel.

The Monteverdi Choir are in fine voice, responsive to all that Gardiner asks of them. But the broad vision of the work, the rhythmic energy that runs through it and the sheer excellence of the choral and orchestral contributions speak for themselves. Cuts are very few, and amply justified by authentic precedent. This recording is firmly recommended as the standard version of this great work.


The exuberant direction by harpsichordist John Butt is meticulously stylish and utterly devoid of crassly pretentious egotism. The playing is unerringly spontaneous and dramatically integrated with singers who illustrate profound appreciation of text. Butt bravely resolves to use the same forces Handel had at his disposal in Dublin, which means that the entire oratorio is sung by a dozen singers with all soloists required to participate in the choruses, as Handel would have expected.

This new Coro recording presents them to better advantage than their uneven version for Hyperion: the choir remains excellent 21 years later but the orchestra and soloists are a vast improvement. Only one member of the choir and two orchestral players repeat their roles in the performance, and the violin section has swelled from seven to 12, which helps to produce a stronger theatrical sound.

The contribution from the oboes is more telling and to the fore than one usually hears, although the prominence of the organ as a continuo instrument is seldom convincing nor is the use of theorbo accompaniment in recitatives. When necessary, resonant homophonic grandeur is achieved without pomposity. Three of the soloists earned their spurs as members of The Sixteen.

Christophers conducts with finesse and integrity. In common with many operas of the time — and fewer oratorios — there are no large choral forces required in this portrayal of the battle between protagonists of darkness and light. The international cast includes two Italians, whose verbal relish is especially good to hear. Luca Pisaroni makes a suitably villainous Lucifer and his virile bass-baritone is well up to the wide tessitura of the part; this is a devil who gets some of the most difficult tunes.

Two British singers complete the line-up and both give of their very best. The epic anthology of archaic and modern chorus techniques in the scriptural, monumental and decidedly undramatic Israel in Egypt was radically different from the fascinating dramatic characters and quasi-Shakespearean intensity of the vividly theatrical Saul , in which the trombones, carillon and harp are used to illustrate Biblical scenes of music-making, from jubilant crowd scenes to intimate music for David.

Christopher Purves charms, broods, fumes implacably, plots villainously and confronts his doom vividly in the manner of a Shakespearean tragedian. Contrapuntal lines are moulded warmly and with immaculate diction, and extrovert choruses are sung with plenty of charisma, seductiveness or moral outrage as the texts variously demand, such as the choric contemplations of envy and rage that bookend Act 2.

Tempi are shrewdly judged, rhythms light and supple, and recitatives tumble inevitably into arias. As at the English National Opera, Rosemary Joshua, radiant of tone, dazzling in coloratura, makes Semele far more than an over-sexed airhead. Hilary Summers, a true, deep contralto, characterises both roles well.

With excellent recorded sound and balance, and an informative essay from David Vickers, this becomes a clear first choice for an ever-enticing work.

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McCreesh, however, stoutly defends the original structural balance. This historical infidelity is one of the few possible -reservations about the set, which is a notable achievement. McCreesh is fortunate in his cast, too.

G.F. Handel Organ Concertos Op.7, Peter Hurford 1/2

Predictably, Scholl becomes the central focus by his beauty of voice, calm authority, charm and intelligent musicianship. Here is a case of astonishing neglect not just gratefully but outstandingly well repaired. Not that Handel himself gave Susanna many opportunities, reviving it only once after the premiere of I t has suffered critical misunderstanding and misrepresentation over the years, but from the evidence of this superb performance, it is a work of deep seriousness, gravely moral in tone. The long opening scene, est ablishing the marital happiness of Susanna and Joacim, is unfolded with real accomplishment offering music of warmth and consequence as well for Chelsias, Susanna's father.

The aria for soprano that closes the scene, "Bending to the throne of glory", strikes me as one of Handel's noblest utterances. Susanna's two suitors are vividly portrayed; the tenor's music is infused with a kind of insinuating sensuality that perfectly captures the character's lasciviousness and the bass's is truly menacing in its directness and graphic expression.

Works on This Recording

Jeffrey and David Thomas beautifully fill these portraits with a real grasp of the Handelian line and phrase. The aria for Susanna that follows, "If guiltless blood be your intent" is one of those moments where the music is extraordinarily elevating, as too is the chorus that ends the act, after an aria from Joacim which represents with dashing violins his flying home to Susanna's aid. The soprano Lorraine Hunt, as Susanna, offers singing of great expressiveness and she rises to great heights of concentration in her arias at the heart of the work.

Drew Minter's perfectly tuned, gently phrased Joacim, matches her extraordinarily well. Jill Feldman, too, offers some stylish and fresh singing. The California-based Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, under Nicholas McGegan, produce a warmer, and less scrawny sound than many baroque bands but with welcomely less surface gloss. This is, in short, one of the best performances I have heard of any Handel oratorio, marked by integrity on every plane. Above all it establishes that Susanna is a work of stature that I, for one, had never suspected from previous performances or the score.

An excellent recording and a first-rate booklet merely add to the pleasure of this outstanding set. Until relatively recently it remained a rarity, but lately it has come to be recognised as a masterpiece, although quite different in mood and treatment from most of his more familiar oratorios. But all the solo music is finely sung. Her presence at the centre of the tragic drama elevates it as a whole. Didymus, originally a castrato role very rare in oratorios , is sung by Robin Blaze, whose focused, even-toned countertenor — not a hint of the traditional hoot — serves well: this is fluent singing, with no great depth of tone, but very steady and controlled, with the detail precisely placed.

As Septimius, Paul Agnew is in good voice, firm and full in tone, phrasing the music elegantly although the Act 3 air is unconvincing, too bouncy and cheerful for the situation. Ornamentation is appropriate and tasteful, and McCreesh takes the recitative at a natural and relaxed pace. His main contribution, however, is in the well-sprung rhythms he draws from his Gabrieli singers and players, in the way he allows the lines to breathe, and in the sense of purpose and direction he imparts to the bass-line. Robust cut-and-thrust is lacking but only infrequently. The singers deliver an engaging and fervent account of the moral conflict between the evil Piacere Pleasure and the virtuous guardians Tempo Time and Disinganno Disenchantment over the soul of Bellezza Beauty , who wants to be a disciple of Pleasure but thankfully ends up on the side of the angels just in the nick of time to be saved.

Mezzo Anna Stephany reins her voice in with admirable discipline and there is a nice atmosphere of chamber music-making between her vocal lines and solos by organist Mark Williams. The ever-increasing popularity of Handel and his contemporaries, and their employment of alto -castratos, has encouraged the development of countertenors capable of similar vocal feats to the original interpreters of the heroic roles in these works.

Among these, David Daniels can certainly be counted as a leading contender.