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Saul Oratorio in Three Acts
George Frideric Handel, Jürgen Budday, Hanoversche Hofkapelle
Saul Oratorio in Three Acts
Genre: Classical
  •  Track Listings (29) - Disc #1
  •  Track Listings (31) - Disc #2


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A voice teacher and early music fan
George Peabody | Planet Earth | 07/09/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)

I have just finished listening to the oratorio 'SAUL'from Maulbronn conducted by Jurgan Budday. It leaves me breathless with it's high drama and excellent singing. The fact that this is a LIVE performance makes it all the more exciting to hear. The performers and the conductor are all 'up' for a live situation, a 'do or die', so to speak ,and all of this is reflected in their output. If small defects creep in, or not, it doesn't disturb the listener if they are truly involved mentally with the action of the moment.

Handel was both an incomparable genius and a regular Mr.Show Biz. Far from canceling each other out, these qualities combine in bracing ways, at least in Handel's best works,like this 1738 Oratorio 'Saul'.

It might be a good idea to read or reread the story of Saul in the Old Testament, the Book of Samuel, before listening to this recording. Handel's knowledge of the Bible is evident in his ability to choose biblical characters who were colorful and led exciting lives and performed great deeds. The story of Saul must also include the story of David and Jonathan, whose friendship is legandary.

There is so much drama and ebuillience and turmoil such as Saul's love-hate relationship with David; Jonathan's defence of David,thus defying his Father's instructions to kill David; Saul's desperate visit to the Witch of Endor, who at Saul's request brought Samuel back to life,so that Saul could find out why God had deserted him, and unfortunately was given a negative response by Samuel, further enraging him. And finally, the death of Saul and Jonathan on the battlefield which caused David to plunge into depression.

Handel brought striking psychological insight to his telling of this bible story. Saul,the Israelite king, is depicted as a once great, but now paranoid figure, deeply shaken by the heroic upstart, David. And for all his steadfastness, David, also comes across as complex: a would-be leader caught between humility and arrogance.

Handel's music of astonishing lyrical creativity and quicksilver harmonic turns, lays open each character for us to see. The score has a smooth dramatic flow: vivid recitative passages lead subtly into enticing arias, which fit into duets and ensembles. The score includes richly varies orchestration, and martial music spiked with brass fanfaresand percussion volleys.

As David, Michael Chance, the superb countertenor, sang his arias with effortless agility and dramatic involvement, and always with his uniquely 'golden-toned' sound. Indeed, Chance leads the dramatic impetus in the entire production which is displayed blatantly in his rendition of 'Impious Wretch' in which he shines. Nancy Argenta,singing as Saul's daughter Michel, was sweet-toned and clear-voiced. Stephen Varcoe in the demanding role of Saul, was able to convey the many varied emotions skillfully in a suitably commanding manner. Marc Le Brocq, in the role of Jonathan, was quite impressive as the worshiper of David and Saul's defiant son.

The liner notes are 'skimpy' and in German. There really is no libretto; all one gets is the program itself, and the first line of each aria in English. If you can live with that, this is a superb listening treat!"