Search - George Frideric Handel, Paul McCreesh, Susan Gritton :: Handel - Theodora / Gritton, Bickley, Blaze, Agnew, A. Smith, N. Davies, Gabrieli Consort and Players, McCreesh

Handel - Theodora / Gritton, Bickley, Blaze, Agnew, A. Smith, N. Davies, Gabrieli Consort and Players, McCreesh
George Frideric Handel, Paul McCreesh, Susan Gritton
Handel - Theodora / Gritton, Bickley, Blaze, Agnew, A. Smith, N. Davies, Gabrieli Consort and Players, McCreesh
Genre: Classical
"The Jews will not come to it, because it is a Christian story; and the Ladies will not, because it is a virtuous one." Such was Handel's own assessment of the prospects for Theodora. This oratorio always has been highly...  more »


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"The Jews will not come to it, because it is a Christian story; and the Ladies will not, because it is a virtuous one." Such was Handel's own assessment of the prospects for Theodora. This oratorio always has been highly esteemed by serious Handelians; in the composer's time, as in our own. Many listeners, however, could be forgiven for finding somewhat tiresome the musical account of the oh-so-chaste Princess Theodora of Antioch and her martyrdom at the hands of the Romans. Certainly many modern performances have tended to drone on--in a virtuously Protestant manner--about bidding farewell to worldly things and clinging to faith through tribulation. Of the many marvelous things about this recording, the most remarkable is the vocal acting: Paul McCreesh and his cast have created real characters with real conflicts. Susan Gritton gives us a youthful Theodora who is almost besotted with her own virtue and faith--and genuinely frightened when that faith gets her into danger. Countertenor Robin Blaze portrays Didymus, Theodora's suitor and rescuer, with love-struck impetuousness, as well as confident coloratura. Paul Agnew has always had a beautiful tenor voice, but never before has he captured so well a character's internal conflicts as in the role of the Roman lieutenant Septimius. As the Christian woman Irene and the Roman governor Valens (the libretto's respective compass points of good and evil), mezzo Susan Bickley and bass Neal Davies bring alive what could be stock roles--Bickley delicate and pure yet steadfast, and Davies exuberantly tyrannical. McCreesh's superb chorus and Baroque orchestra, as thrilling here as they were in Solomon, are probably the best interpreters of Handel oratorio who are now active. We still might get a recording of Theodora that's even more beautifully sung than this one, but we're unlikely to get one that's more dramatically engaging. --Matthew Westphal

CD Reviews

Total Handel Heaven!
Jason Field | London, England | 12/20/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Handel's Theodora - the tale of Christian Martyrdom set in Antioch c304 A.D, is an utter delight, and no more so in this new recording by Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort and Players.Those of you reading who were lucky enough to see the Glyndebourne production a couple of years ago with Dawn Upshaw, David Daniels et al, will already know what an emotional work this is, and this recording conveys Handel's musical (and emotional) mastery perfectly. For your money you get three CDs (79, 60 and 48 mins respectively). The recording is crisp and responsive - the tempi well balanced and the pitch even (in this case A=418Hz). What of the Cast? Counter-tenors are now big business with the likes of Scholl and Daniels regularly appearing on the World's opera stages, but it is refreshing to hear the excellent (and English) Robin Blaze in this recording. His voice is majestic, florid and emotional all at once, with a light, even temperament (listen to `The raptur'd soul' or `Sweet Rose and Lilly').The soprano Susan Gritton is now a personal favourite of mine and in the title role she not only shines, but is a good pairing for Blaze's Didymus, no more so than in the two utterly rapturous duets at the end parts II and III respectively (`To thee thou glorious son of worth' and `stream of pleasure ever flowing'). Sue Gritton has power when required but also possesses intelligence and the emotional depth to really make any aria meaningful.Singers no less accomplished than Gritton and Blaze take the other lead roles. Susan Bickley's Irene is fantastic, and the timbre of her voice a delight to hear - she also gets my vote for `best ornamentation', with some wonderful moments (`Bane of Virtue' and `As with rosy steps the morn').The other two male roles, Valens and Septimius are given excellent performances by the bass Neal Davies and the tenor Paul Agnew respectively. Both these singers convey the music perfectly, with Agnew's lyrical tenor voice standing out especially.One must not forget either the chorus or the orchestra. The Gabrieli chorus makes a fantastic sound that is both well articulated and intelligent. The counterpoint and fugal quality of Handel's music is delivered with vigour when required and emotion in the more contemplative numbers. The chorus sings beautifully what Handel rated as one of his finest choruses, of the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (He saw the lovely youth) - it is easy to see why!This recording has everything - a fine cast and chorus supported by an excellent band on period instruments. In short, it is three hours of some of the best music Handel ever wrote, and for that reason alone should grace the shelves of any lover of Handel's exquisite music."
"Virgin" is not a dirty word
Dr. Peter J. Glidden | Gli Angeli, California | 09/20/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

""Theodora, Virgin and Martyr" is the less than appetizing subtitle of Handel's pentultimate oratorio, subject taken from St. Ambrosius' "De virginibus", made into a play by Pierre Corneille (1646), and also a novel-treatise by Robert Boyle (1687). From this inauspicious subject, two works of great beauty resulted, the play and the oratorio. Yet the popularity of either was little in their day, and for this we will blame the subject, too much virtue, too little passion. However, the music is strangely liberated from the drama and Handel really outdid himself, as he did so often in the more subtle, heroine-centred oratorios "Deborah", "Susannah" are two good examples. Just how does one sustain interest over three CD's with little forward-moving plot and sententious choruses? Simply, via the music, and by extention, the skill and expressiveness of the singers and orchestra. Paul McCreesh took what he learned about variety from Solomon, dramatic singing of static texts from the Messiah, and gave us this latest, beautiful release. Buy this opera for Susan Gritton, a passionate yet consumate voice, but also for the clean, "boyish" (yet with lovely, dark low notes and incredible skill) counter-tenor Robin Blaze. And if you know Neal Davies and Paul Agnew, you pretty much have a perfect cast. The pure "gravy" element comes, however, with the addition of Susan Bickley, one of those rare mezzos who is genuinely soft and gentle on the ear while never sacrificing vocality. She is the kind of alto you loved sitting next to in choir, something of Anne Sophie Von Otter's warmth, and wonderfully expressive. Great chorus, great conducting, a worthy addition to Handelian output and recordings."
S Duncan | London | 09/15/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I can find no weak link. The conducting is superb, the recording is clear digital, the story is gripping and as realistic as you can expect from Handel....and the singing? Superb.

Neal Davies makes a firm, vicious and cruel Valens. His menace is palpable yet very musical. Paul Agnew's Septimius is the definition of sympathy. He colours his voice vividly to convey his torture, conflicting loyalties as well as his sympathy and love for his friend, and later to convey his stern advice to the Christians "Dread the fruits of Christian folly". The latter was executed with fascinatingly clean runs.

I will struggle not to get carried away with Susan Bickley's RAVISHING Irene! "As with rosy steps the dawn advancing" will stop your breath with its purity, its beauty and the effectiveness of its simplicity. Likewise, "Defend her heav'n" will slow your breath in parallel piety to Bickley's awesome rendition.

The superlatives continue for one of the most endearing countertenors of our time. Robin Blaze's delivery as Didymus is smooth in all respects...vocal skill and drama without a hint of hysterics. None of the so-called 'hoot' to his lovely voice either. His duet with Susan Gritton ("To thee thou glorious son of worth") is rapturously sung and the voices are perfectly matched.

Then Susan Gritton herself: I am not equal to the task of her praise. Suffice it to say that her pure, golden-honeyed tone add painful beauty to technical perfection.

I summon the strength for final praise to the EXCELLENT chorus and Choir Director. "Go gen'rous pious youth" is one of the tracks that I play most frequently. All throughout, however, the chorus is brilliant.

McCreesh and his players have made this into an epic event. Full satisfaction guaranteed."