I could not be happier with these superb recording...
Thomas McCallum | Minneapolis, Minnesota USA | 05/26/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have been listening to the 2 cds of SAMSON quite extensively, and I must say that this recording is truly impressive. First, the cast of soloists is an absolutely superb assembly of historically-informed performers. It would be hard to find singers any better than Michael Chance and David Thomas. I found all of the performances by the soloists nearly impeccable. Second, I suspected that the recording themselve might be filled with ambient and background noises since these were the result of live performances. I have been extremely pleased with the technical aspects of the recording: it is "clean" and clear with very little extraneous sounds. The engineering of this recording is highly commendable! Finally, the orchestral playing by the Barockorchester der Klosterkonzerte and the participation of the Maulbronner Kammerchor are nearly flawless. The string playing is especially strong, and the choruses - filled with drama and emotion - are executed at the highest possible level. Even the pronunciation and intonation of the English is perfect. In sum, I could not be happier with this superb recording. This new addition by K & K Verlagsanstalt to the recorded Handel repertoire is a magnificent model, exemplary of how to bring this monumental work to life for the modern audience. The crisp, clear recording, the excellent engineering, the incredible acoustics, the superb performance make this of the best Handel compact disc I have purchased in a long time. This is a performance to be treasured and is of the highest caliber of historically-informed practice."
Pleasurable but flawed performance of condensed score
Nicholas A. Deutsch | New York, NY USA | 12/08/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Overall, this live recording of Handel's SAMSON (1743) is both accomplished and enjoyable. At the same time, there are a number of shortcomings that prospective buyers might like to know of.
First, the score is heavily cut: out of a total of 89 separate numbers, 26 are omitted entirely, and another 10 are shortened. SAMSON uncut runs about 3 1/2 hours (in the recording by The Sixteen); this one is about 50 minutes shorter. Many of these cuts are unobjectionable: prior to the premiere, Handel expanded his original draft in order to accommodate new singers in his company, and later he made a number of cuts, especially in the recitatives, in order to reduce the great length of the work. But this performance not only takes almost all of the recitative cuts Handel made, but a fair number of others as well; with them disappear many important details of plot, theology and psychology. Too, some of the omitted numbers are really missed: jamming all 3 of Dalila's solos together beck-to-back is peculiar, and a SAMSON without the hero's 'Torments, alas!' and 'Your charms to ruin led the way' is a SAMSON diminished. And there is one dismaying choice: a superfluous da capo (first section reprise) has been added to Micah's air 'Return, oh God of hosts!', thus destroying Handel's masterstroke of substituting a chorus (with solo interjections) in place of the expected repeat. The great Handel editor Friedrich Chrysander rightly condemned this spurious tradition (back in 1851!) and it's deplorable to hear it revived.
All of which is a pity, because the performance has plenty of warmth and style. It's generally very persuasively conducted, and well (though not flawlessly) played by the period orchestra and sung by the chorus. Of the soloists, the highly experienced Michael Chance (Micah) and David Thomas (Harapha) are particularly well suited to their roles, and both made much of their words. Sinead Pratschke's light, bright soprano is especially charming in Dalila's music (created by a comic actress, "Kitty" Clive), and Raimund Nolte is a solid Manoa. In the all-important title role, Marc LeBrocq displays a pleasant Mozartean tenor, not always perfectly tuned; in the recitatives, sung very steadily and evenly, he projects a sort of melancholy dignity, but only hints of the many other emotions, some fierce, that Samson experiences in the course of the piece.
For a complete SAMSON on period instruments, try The Sixteen's version conducted by Harry Christophers: it takes a while to warm up (as does the piece itself) but grows in feeling and power, and is superbly played and sung. The old Leppard version, on modern instruments, may appeal for its powerhouse lineup of soloists (Janet Baker, Robert Tear, Helen Watts, John Shirley-Quirk, Benjamin Luxon, Felicity Lott, etc.) Another shortened period version on 2 CDs, from Nikolaus Harnoncourt, has the best Samson of all, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, as well as the lovely Roberta Alexander, plus an abundance of theatrical fervor."
A voice teacher and early music fan
George Peabody | Planet Earth | 01/26/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"THIS IS A LIVE RECORDING!!!!!There is nothing more exciting than listening to a recording of a performance that is taking place at a partiular time. The performers are definitely 'up' for it, as is the conductor. That is one reason why I LOVE these Maulbronn records. Oh,of course, we sometimes risk an incorrect note or two, but if the emotional investment on the part of the singers, etc. is great, then we are privy to a unique experience.
In 1741, two weeks after completing 'Messiah' Handel set about the difficult task of translating Milton's dark and dense meditation on the Samson Bible story. Milton's poem 'Samson Agonistes' is a work of Milton's late years based largely on the 16th Book of Judges in the Bible. Blind himself at this point, and thus responsive to the tormented blindness of the biblical Samson (a point not lost on Handel, whose own sight was beginning to fail), Milton created a work for the reader's eye and ear, as well. And Handel brings all this out in his Oratorio with the agonizing song Samson sings "Total Eclipse", sung dramatically and well by tenor Marc LeBrocq. Several months later and several revisions later it was finally completed, but not performed until Feb. 1743, at which time it was a great success. It retained its popularity through Handel's lifetime and has never fallen out of favor!
Of George Frederick Handel of England, born Georg Friedrich of Germany, an English critic wrote,"He did bestride our musical world like a Colossus." The English passion for oratorio is largely due to Handel. Every year from 1738 to 1751, he produced at least one which included a series of biblical subjects based on Old Testament heroes. It would be prudent for anybody listening to this disc to read the story in the 16th book of Judges, as there is no libretto included in the accompanying booklet. In fact, everything is in German.
The two main characters are Samson (LeBrocq-tenor) and Micah (Michael Chance-countertenor). Chance, in his role as Samson's consoler, is very convincing with his highly dramatic singing along with his rich and full tone quality. Le Brocq is properly tormented and angry and his renditions disply this well. Sinead Pratschke, soprano, as Delilah, Samson's downfall, sings with a light, bright voice, not quite intense enough for my taste, but certainly in character. David Thomas, bass, and Raymond Nolte, baritone fullfilled their roles skillfully.
Maulbronner Kammerchor has a good crisp sound, and although not perfect, they are certainly one of the strengths of this recording. They sing the faster pieces with a lively bounce while still finding the right depth of tone for the darker moments. The Barockorchester provides clean and well-articulated playing. Jurgan Budday has a good feel for the structure of Handel's music, and supports his singers well. His tempos are steady, though a bit sluggish at times.
Unlike the other biblical oratorios, which were all other reworkings of existing Scripture-based plays or original creations by Handel's librettists, 'Samson' stands alone . The librettist, Newburgh Hamilton, through skillful abridgements and juxtapositions of Mlton's poem managed to maintain the integrity- the sobriety and penitential tone of the original.
There are some really tuneful and lively Handelian tunes in this oratorio; some of which are: "Return O God of Hosts" Chance and the chorus- "How Willing My Paternal Love" Raimond Nolte(baritone)- "Ye Sons of Israel, Now Lament" Chance-and it concludes with the familiar chorus: "Let the Celestial concerts all Unite". This music is Handel at his greatest!
On February 24, 1743, three days after the premiere of 'Samson', the politician Horace Walpole, a devotee of Italian opera, wrote to Horace Mann: "Handel has set up an Oratorio against the Opera, and succeeds.....""