Handel Dixit Dominus etc

A superb collection of Handel's church music built around an outstanding performance of the Dixit Dominus

Author: 
Stanley Sadie

HANDEL Dixit Dominus etc

  • Dixit Dominus
  • Laudate pueri Dominum
  • Saeviat tellus
  • Salve Regina

Did any composer produce a body of work analogous to Handel's Latin church music? It seems to me that these pieces, written in his 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: and that he was exhilarated by the discovery. You can positively hear him stretching his musical wings in this music.
And it certainly does not fail to take off in these very lively performances. The quickish tempos habitually favoured by Marc Minkowski are by no means out of place here. As far as I can see, there is no other recording currently available of the Saeviat tellus, although the music itself is pretty familiar as Handel recycled most of it, notably the brilliant opening number in Apollo e Dafne and the lovely 'O nox dulcis' in Agrippina (here marked Adagissimo and taken duly slowly - and beautifully sung by Annick Massis, who is also amply athletic in the opening number and the final 'Alleluia'). 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 (a different soloist here, Magdalena Kozena, who brings to it a rich, flexible and well-defined voice with a bright top). 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 is some happy oboe playing, as well as fine singing from Kozena, earlier on, in particular in the hugely spirited 'Excelsus super omnes' (one of the few numbers that Handel did not, as far as I know, re-use).
The biggest item is of course 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 as exciting as in any performance I can remember; and the long closing chorus is done with due weight at quite a measured pace. I would also mention the admirable alto, Sara Fulgoni, for the clean and fluent 'Virgam virtutis'. The accents seem rather overdone in the 'Dominus a dextris tuis'; and here and there, throughout the disc, there are moments where you feel it's close to being a bit of a scramble. But this is a splendid series of performances that truly captures the spirit of these marvellous pieces: I'm sure it will be one of my discs of the year, maybe the century.'

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