~ HWV 67 ~
Edition Kloster Maulbronn
Recorded in 2003.
Released in 2004.
Solomon: Michael Chance, countertenor
Solomon's Queen, First Harlot: Nancy Argenta, soprano
Queen of Sheba, Second Harlot: Laurie Reviol, soprano
Zadok: Julian Podger, tenor
Levite: Steffen Balbach, bass
Hannoversche Hofkapelle (on period instruments)
Maulbronn Chamber Choir
Conductor: Jürgen Budday
(Recorded live at Klosterkirche Maulbronn on 27th and 28th September 2003.)
This abridged performance of Solomon is the fifth Handel oratorio recording to have been made at Maulbronn Monastary (near Stuttgart) under the competent direction of Jürgen Budday. Several highly respected specialists (even if some are a little bit past their finest hour) deliver characteristic if not flawless performances. Michael Chance is an engaging Solomon, but it is fair to admit that he now acts the role better than he sings it. But while his “What tho’ I trace each herb and flower” is less technically perfect than Andreas Scholl’s (McCreesh, on DG Archiv), Chance sounds like he means every word and understands every verse. Laurie Reviol and Nancy Argenta contribute some good things, but Julian Podger’s Zadok disappointed me. Zadok is not an easy role to bring off owing to several very difficult arias that leave little impact on the whole oratorio, but Podger struggles to sing with the relaxed agility that I normally associate with his distinctive and under-rated voice. Perhaps he is simply miscast in this role.
Budday’s Handel oratorio recordings usually suffer from some inconsistency, and this is no exception. The sound quality itself is excellent, and the orchestra is solid and reliable from both technical and stylistic perspectives. It is good to hear an ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheba’ that is paced according to the musical content rather than the determination of the conductor to set a world record. The Maulbronn Chamber Choir is not ideal, although its English pronunciation is generally very impressive. As I’ve commented before about K&K’s Handel recordings, the choir is well disciplined and blends reasonably well, although it occasionally sounds a little bit out of tune. The length and content of this abridged version (cut down to fit onto two discs) can be compared to John Eliot Gardiner’s groundbreaking recording made by Philips in the 1980s, and Budday’s interpretation can hold its own in most respects, even if it has a mild atmosphere of running on auto-pilot.
Dramatic power is not much evident, although Solomon is not an overwhelmingly dramatic oratorio, and this decent performance represents commendable spirit and good intentions. This kind of anti-intensity is not harmful in Solomon, although it did much to damage Budday’s Saul (released last year). On the whole, this cannot bear too much comparison with Paul McCreesh’s excellent recording, and the technical quality of each individual movement is not as impressive as Gardiner’s (which, apart from Handel’s original version being cut, remains my favourite performance for its sheer élan and choral brilliance). It is unfortunate that the dramatic core of the oratorio is split across the two discs: the scene that portrays the title-character’s judgement between the two harlots both claiming to be the mother of an infant boy is one of Handel’s most magnificent confrontations, and to interrupt it in mid-flow is sacrilege. Although this edit has occurred due to technical issues, I would have enjoyed the neat performance much more had I not needed to change discs to hear it all in one sitting. Handel is masterful at dramatic pacing and musical flow, and record companies ought to be more careful (Dynamic’s recent Agrippina also blunders in this respect).
As with previous K&K Handel recordings, this cannot be given a safe recommendation. My sitting on the fence hardly reflects Solomon’s ability to judge, but it is fair to observe that among the weaknesses in Budday’s performance there are also moments to relish. In the meantime, if you remain curious about the K&K recordings of Handel’s English oratorios made at Maulbronn, you would be best off starting with its respectable performance of Judas Maccabaeus.
© David Vickers - May 2004
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