The Gramophone Choice
Couple with Laudate pueri Dominum, HWV237 Saeviat tellus, HWV240. Salve regina, HWV241
Annick Massis sop Magdalena Kožená mez Chœur des Musiciens du Louvre; Les Musiciens du Louvre / Marc Minkowski
Archiv 459 627-2AH (78' · DDD · T/t) Buy from Amazon
These pieces, written in Handel’s early twenties, embody a kind of excitement and freedom, and a richness of ideas, that come from his contact with a different tradition and a sudden realisation that the musical world was larger and less constricted than he had imagined, tucked away in provincial middle and north Germany. You can hear him stretching his musical wings in this music, and it certainly doesn’t fail to take off in these very lively performances. The quickish tempi habitually favoured by Marc Minkowski are by no means out of place here. The Saeviat tellus, although little recorded, is pretty familiar music, as Handel recycled most of it, notably the brilliant opening number in Apollo e Dafne and the lovely ‘O nox dulcis’ in Agrippina. This is a solo motet, as too is the Salve regina, notable for the expressive vocal leaps and chromatic writing in the ‘Ad te clamamus’ and the solo organ and string-writing in the ‘Eia ergo’ that follows. Laudate pueri, which uses a choir, is another fresh and energetic piece: the choir of the Musiciens du Louvre do their pieces in rousing fashion, and there’s some happy oboe-playing, as well as fine singing from Kožená earlier on, in particular in the hugely spirited ‘Excelsus super omnes’. The biggest item is the Dixit Dominus, where the choir sings very crisply. The illustrative settings of ‘ruinas’ tumbling down through the registers, and the ‘conquassabit’ that follows, are truly exciting; and the long closing chorus is done with due weight at quite a measured pace. These splendid performances truly capture the spirit of these marvellous pieces.
Coupled with Caldara Crucifixus. Missa Dolorosa
Balthasar Neumann Choir and Ensemble / Thomas Hengelbrock
Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 82876 58792-2 (63’ · DDD/DSD · T/t) Buy from Amazon
Handel’s Dixit Dominus, the magnificent psalm setting composed in Rome in 1707, seems to have an eternal power to startle and delight in equal measure. This performance captures the flamboyant tension and precocious genius that must have struck the 22-year-old’s Roman patrons like a thunderbolt. The superb Balthasar Neumann Choir possess laudable clarity and precision.
The soprano duet ‘De torrente’ is ideally hushed and plaintive, but apocalyptic moments such as ‘Juravit Dominus’ make Thomas Hengelbrock’s version comparable with the most striking in the catalogue. The staccato chords on ‘conquassabit’ are delivered with impeccably controlled aggression. The orchestra is magnificent, with the contrast between first and second violins presented in thrilling SACD sound. Two theorbo players drive the music along with firm determination and make the opening of the ‘Gloria’ snap with an energetic bite.
Some of Hengelbrock’s most important work has been the championing of Italian Baroque sacred music (especially Lotti). This time it’s the turn of Antonio Caldara, a Venetian active in Rome at about the same time as Handel and subsequently the most popular and prolific composer at the Viennese court of Emperor Charles VI. The Kyrie of the Missa Dolorosa, composed in 1735, instantly establishes that Caldara was infinitely more than a mediocre talent blessed by good fortune, although the feeling persists that the Mass was made to fit circumstances rather than to endure for posterity. Its splendid moments range from the graceful bassoon solo in ‘Domine Fili’ to an abrasively dramatic ‘Et resurrexit’. Caldara’s reputation is further restored by the gorgeous 16-part Crucifixus which rounds off this exceptional disc.