Gloria •Dixit Dominus

Philips Classics 462 597-2
1 CD
full price
Recorded in 1998 & 2001.
Released in 2001.

  • Vivaldi: Gloria in D major (RV 589)
  • Handel: Gloria in excelsis Deo (HWV deest)
  • Handel: Dixit Dominus (HWV 232)
Gillian Keith (soprano)
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists (on period instruments)
Sir John Eliot Gardiner, conductor




John Eliot Gardiner's welcome return to the Handel discography is not as straightforward as it could have been. This technically excellent performance of Dixit Dominus has languished in Universal's vaults for three years, and its eventual release surely has a lot to do with fever surrounding the recent attribution of Gloria in excelsis Deo to Handel. Exciting and impressive recordings of Dixit Dominus have not been rare since Gardiner first recorded it for Erato more than two decades ago. Versions by Öhrwall (BIS, featuring a very young Anne Sofie von Otter), Simon Preston (DG Archiv), Harry Christophers (Chandos), Andrew Parrott (EMI/Virgin, set in the hugely enjoyable but slightly dubious context of the "Carmelite Vespers"), and Marc Minkowski (DG Archiv) all have something good to offer, so any new recording - even from Gardiner - has to present an interpretation with something worth saying.

Gardiner has not lost his knack of making Handel sound grand, fresh, and vibrant. The moulding of orchestral textures by the English Baroque Soloists is a constant delight, the continuo section is particularly superb, and the Monteverdi Choir has the elusive compound of dramatic power and perfect intonation. The soloists are weaker than one would have liked, such as the merely reliable countertenor Richard Wyn Roberts in "Virgam virtutis", or four of the Monteverdi Choir sopranos who get their jobs done efficiently but without rivaling Magdalena Kozena, Arleen Auger, or Anne Sofie von Otter. The opening chorus "Dixit Dominus" is not as sharp edged and furious as one might expect, but Gardiner wisely saves the fireworks for "Juravit Dominus", "Conquassabit", and the "Gloria Patri" finale. Consequently, the overall impact of Gardiner's performance is more carefully measured and sensibly paced than Minkowski's, but without sacrificing excitement and style. It sounds as if Gardiner pondered about his interpretation in advance of making this recording, and this Dixit Dominus shows that a little bit of thoughtfulness can go a long way. Paul McCreesh and Marc Minkowski, Gardiner's heirs apparent at Deutsche Grammophon Archiv, do not have all the interpretative answers to Handel's rhetorical compositions. 

The booklet note about the 'new' Gloria by Anthony Hicks is probably the most accurate and best written source of information regarding the recently rediscovered work (including the recent Early Music article by Prof. Hans Joachim Marx, much of which was speculative conjecture). The agile performance by Gillian Keith is impressive, and even if her singing is not superior to Emma Kirkby's radiant performance on the premiere recording (BIS), the English Baroque Soloists have a slightly richer and more natural manner than the Royal Academy of Music band. Gardiner's recording was made only days after the official premiere at Göttingen by Nicholas McGegan and Dominique Labelle, and anyone with an interest in the Gloria will want to have this CD. 

Yet there is one minor grumble. The coupling of these Handel works with an equally admirable account of Vivaldi's Gloria does not prevent one from asking why Gardiner and his team did not tackle another Handel work such as the psalm Nisi Dominus or the motet Saeviat tellus inter rigores instead. Such mixed programming also affected Gardiner's wonderful recording of Laudaute pueri and Silete venti with soprano Sylvia McNair, which somebody decided to couple with Mozart's Exultate Jubilate. It would have been a far better artistic decision for McNair and Gardiner to record a separate disc of Mozart motets and concert arias, and a similar solution could have been applied here with the creation of a separate Vivaldi disc. These A&R decisions have deprived the Handel, Mozart and Vivaldi categories in record stores of some of the best performances Gardiner has produced, and surely loss of potential specialist sales has been the only outcome. 

© David Vickers - November 2001

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