“Handel: The Masterworks” - 40 CDs

This special release presents a versatile selection of Handel’s works. The criteria for deciding its content appears to be the ease of publishing under licence rather than choosing to represent the finest of the various types of works. For example, the two and only operas in this anthology are Faramondo and Imeneo. Consequently the result is quite erratic, with performances ranging from really good to really bad, and with booklets that are sometimes interesting, sometimes very thin, or occasionally even absent. It is worth considering that to buy the most interesting recordings in the set separately would be much more expensive than buying this set, and that some are no longer available on their original labels. Note that recordings licensed from Edel Classics were originally released on Berlin Classics, and the original label for some recordings is not acknowledged at all (for example the ones on Vanguard Classics). The dates of recording written down on the boxes could be the first release (or even re-release) dates. The dates found in other sources such as the original recording are indicated in square brackets.

Produced by Brilliant Classics. Catalog # 99777

Vol. 1-3:

Jephtha  (HWV 70) 

Jephtha                       John Mark Ainsley

Iphis                            Christiane Oelze

Storge                          Catherine Denley

Zebul                           Michael George

Hamor                         Axel Köhler

Angel                           Julia Gooding

RIAS Kammerchor

Akademie für Alte Musik (on period instruments)

Marcus Creed

3 CD’s Brilliant Classics licensed from Edel Classics GmbH

Released in 2001 / Recorded in 1992





Composed two years after Theodora and eight before his death and while he was partly blind, Jephtha is Handel’s last oratorio. With a good choir and an excellent orchestra, Marcus Creed offers a solid interpretation of this oratorio, one that is able to do justice to the greatness and profoundness of the work. John Mark Ainsley is a very convincing Jephtha. Most of the other soloists, if not extraordinary, at least offer a good personification of each character.

Vol. 4-5:

Judas Maccabaeus  (HWV 63) 

Judas Maccabaeus     Alexander Young

Simon                            John Shirley-Quirk

Israelite woman          Heather Harper

Israelite man               Helen Watts

Wandsworth School Boys Choir

Amor Artis Chorale

English Chamber Orchestra (on modern instruments)

Johannes Somary

2 CDs Brilliant Classics
[originally released on Vanguard Classics]

Released in 2001 / Recorded in ?




First performed in 1747 and celebrating the Duke of Cumberland’s victory over Charles Stuart, the ‘Young’ pretender, the martial Judas Maccabaeus was immediately one of Handel’s most successful dramatic oratorios. Both the orchestra and the choir sound a little “old-fashioned” but Johannes Somary’s conducting is full of energy and with some interesting articulations, tempi and dynamics. Though the men have some needless harshness – partially implied by their parts – the soloists are of a very good standard. Nowadays, many singers do not have Heather Harper’s ease with ornamentation and variations. Generally this is a satisfying version.

Vol. 6-7:

Solomon  (HWV 67) 

Solomon                       Justino Diaz

Pharaoh’s daughter,

First Harlot,

& Queen of Sheba      Sheila Armstrong

Zadok                           Robert Tear

Levite                            Michael Rippon

Second Harlot             Felicity Palmer

Amor Artis Chorale

English Chamber Orchestra (on modern instruments)

Johannes Somary

2 CDs Brilliant Classics
[originally released on Vanguard Classics]

Released in 2001 / Recorded in ?




Solomon was composed in 1748 just before Susanna, but was premiered in 1749 after the latter work had already been performed. Each of the three parts of Solomon presents an independent story belonging to Solomon’s reign. Though the libretto lacks dramatic intensity the music is sometimes moving, often brilliant, and consistently inspired. This oratorio appears as something between a reflection on life and a hymn to monarchy.

As with Somary’s Judas Maccabaeus and Messiah, his Solomon is not totally uninteresting.  However it definitely suffers from the main part being transposed from alto to bass – which really changes the colour, the tone, and the mood of the whole work – and from less attractive soloists.

Vol. 8-10:

Belshazzar  (HWV 61) – sung in German. 

Belshazzar                  Peter Schreier

Nitocris                       Renate Frank-Reinecke

Cyrus                           Ute Trekel-Burckhardt

Daniel                         Gisela Pohl

Gobrias                       Hermann Christian Polster

Arioch                         Joachim Vogt

Messenger                 Günther Beyer

Berliner Singakademie

Kammerorchester Berlin (on modern instruments)

Dietrich Knothe

3 CD’s Brilliant Classics licensed from Edel Classics GmbH

Released in 2001 / Recorded in 1976 [?]


First performed in 1745, Belshazzar is one of the darkest and most theatrical oratorios of Handel. Not only is this interpretation sung in German, but it irredeemably heavy. This gives one a good idea of how Handel oratorio ought not to be performed.

Vol. 11-12:

Messiah  (HWV 56) 

Margaret Price (soprano)

Yvonne Minton (contralto)

Alexander Young (tenor)

Justino Diaz (bass)

Amor Artis Chorale

English Chamber Orchestra (on modern instruments)

Johannes Somary

2 CD’s Brilliant Classics [originally released on Vanguard Classics]

Released in 2001 / Recorded in ? [1970]




          One would expect this to be an old fashioned traditional Messiah, but it is one of the pleasant surprises of the Masterworks set. Somary’s conducting, the choir and the orchestra are correct – articulations are sometimes heavy – and each soloist offers some really nice moments, particularly Yvonne Minton. The da capo are varied and trills are not absent. It is slightly monotonous, but the interpretation is sensitive and with a certain dramatic sense.

Vol. 13-15:

Brockes Passion  (HWV 48) 

Evangelist                 Martin Klietmann (tenor)

Jesus                           István Gáti (baritone)

Tochter Zion             Mária Zádori (soprano)

Peter                           Guy de Mey (tenor)

Judas                          Drew Minter (countertenor)

Mary                           Éva Bártfai-Barta (soprano)

John                            Péter Baján (countertenor)

James, Caiphas        Tamás Csányi (countertenor)

Pilate                          Gunther Burzynski (baritone)

Katalin Farkas (soprano)

Éva Lax (contralto)

János Bándi (tenor)

Stadtsingerchor Halle

Capella Savaria (on period instruments)

Nicholas McGegan

3 CD’s Brilliant Classics licensed from Hungaroton

Released in 2001 / Recorded in 1994 [?]



Handel’s setting of the passion libretto by Barthold Heinrich Brockes (a text used by many composers) might have been composed between 1715 and 1716, and was probably first performed in Hamburg. The pieces (recitatives, arias, ariosos, choruses with or without solo parts) are often short, and alternate in an engaging dramatic and varied way. The melodic inventiveness and the variety of the accompaniments make it a score of great richness.

Many soloists are almost at their best and offer moments of true emotion even if not always perfect singing. Nicholas McGegan seems to be really inspired by this work and the result is truly coherent, well balanced and more varied than several of his opera recordings. CD editors often neglect this work, but at least here is a good version of a marvellous work.

Vol. 16:

Johannes Passion. 

Evangelist                Martin Klietmann (tenor)

Jesus                          József Moldvay (bass)

Pilate                        Charles Brett (countertenor)

Mária Zádori, Ibolya Verebics (sopranos)

Judith Németh (mezzo-soprano)

Gábor Kállay (tenor)

István Gáti (baritone)

Stadtsingerchor Halle

Chamber Choir

Capella Savaria (on period instruments)

Pál Németh

1 CD Brilliant Classics licensed from Hungaroton

Released in 2001 / Recorded in 1994
[Originally released in 1997]


Though many people, including Friedrich Chrysander, thought that this version of the Johannes-Passion was composed by Handel, it seems most likely that it was not. The soloists who sing the arias (particularly Maria Zádori, Judith Németh or István Gáti) are convincing, unlike those interpreting characters who seem less at ease with declamation.  The good performance of the choir and the orchestra completes an honourable recording.

Vol. 17-18: Acis and Galatea  (HWV 49) 

Galatea                      Julianne Baird

Acis                             Frederick Urrey

Polyphemus               Kevin Deas

Damon                        David Price

Ama Deus Ensemble

Valentin Radu

2 CD’s Brilliant Classics licensed from Vox Classics

Released in 2001 / Recorded in 1995






This Masque inspired by Ovid was composed in or around 1718 while Handel worked for James Brydges, the Earl of Carnarvon and later first Duke of Chandos. This recording under Valentin Radu could have been a correct one even if sometimes monotonous. However, problems of accuracy from the orchestra and some soloists prevent it from being a safe recommendation. Tenor David Price has many problems with the part of Damon but the other soloists are convincing. Julianne Baird already recorded the role of Galatea under Johannes Somary in 1986 on Newport Classics, and, despite some accuracy problems here, is still a nice nymph. Frederick Urrey offers some nice singing and Kevin Deas is a strong Polyphemus.

Vol. 19-20:

Imeneo  (HWV 41) 

Imeneo                         John Ostendorf

Rosmene                      Julianne Baird

Tirinto                         D’Anna Fortunato

Clomiri                        Beverly Hoch

Argenio                       Jan Opalach

Brewer Chamber Chorus

Brewer Chamber Orchestra (on period instruments)

Rudolph Palmer

2 CD’s Brilliant Classics licensed from Vox Classics

Released in 2001 / Recorded in circa 1986


      Previously reviewed here.

Vol. 21-23:

Faramondo  (HWV 39) 

Faramondo                D’Anna Fortunato

Clotilde                      Julianne Baird

Gernando                   Drew Minter

Rosimonda                 Jennifer Lane

Adolfo                         Mary Ellen Callahan

Gustavo                      Peter Castaldi

Childerico                  Lorie Gratis

Teobaldo                    Mark Singer

Brewer Chamber Orchestra (on period instruments)

Rudolph Palmer

3 CD’s Brilliant Classics licensed from Vox Classics

Released in 2001 / Recorded in 1996


      Previously reviewed here.

Vol. 24:

Coronation anthems:
Zadok the Priest
(HWV 258)
My Heart is inditing (HWV 261)
Let thy Hand be strengthened
(HWV 259)
The King shall rejoice
(HWV 260)
Organ concerto op. 7 no. 1 (HWV 306)


Rien Voskuilen (organ)

Holland Boys Choir

Dutch Baroque Orchestra (on period instruments)

David Willcocks

1 CD Brilliant Classics

Released in 2001 / Recorded in 1996



In the 1960s David Willcocks recorded a beautiful version of these four brilliant anthems composed for the coronation of George II in 1727. In this recent recording the Holland Boys Choir is not totally at the same level as the Choir of King’s College Cambridge, but offers a good performance with the efficient accompaniment of the Dutch Baroque Orchestra. The organ concerto is a nice additional programme. This disc is one of the few entirely pleasing surprises in the box.

Vol. 25-26:

Italian cantatas:
Delirio amoroso a,c
(HWV 99)
Crudel tiranno amor
(HWV 97)
Agrippina condotta a morire
(HWV 110)
Notte placida e cheta
(HWV 142)
Ero e leandro
(HWV 150)
Il duello amoroso
(HWV 82)


a: Mária Zádori (soprano)

b: Ralph Popken (countertenor)

c: Concerto Armonico (on period instruments), Péter Szüts, Miklós Spányi

d: Capella Savaria (on period instruments), Pál Németh

2 CD’s Brilliant Classics licensed from Hungaroton (originally released separately)

Released in 2001 / Recorded in 1995 [?] for HWV 99, 97 & 110, 1988 for HWV 142, 150 & 82.



This 2 disc set is a beautiful anthology of Italian cantatas for soprano and orchestra, and also features an alto in “Il duello amorosa”. Except for HWV 97, the cantatas were all composed during Handel Italian period, between 1706 and 1710. They are not miniature operas as is sometimes claimed, but often a fascinating focus on a specific character and their tragedy or exploration of a specific feeling. Even if Maria Zadori’s madness in HWV 99 seem to be too moderate, she offers musically sensitive and fine dramatic interpretations. Capella Savaria is a marginally superior to the Concerto Armonico in dramatic involvement, but both discs contain great music given really good performances.

Vol. 27:

German arias (HWV 202-210) 

Arleen Auger (soprano)

Peter Mirring (violin)

Werner Tast (flute)

Burkhardt Glaetzner (oboe)

Matthias Pfaender (cello)

Dieter Zahn (violone)

Günter Klier (bassoon)

Walter Heinz Bernstein (harpsichord)

1 CD Brilliant Classics licensed from Edel Classics GmbH

Released in 2001 / Recorded in 1980





Probably composed during the second half of the 1720s, these nine German arias use texts from a collection by Barthold Heinrich Brockes called “Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott” (i.e. “Terrestrial pleasure in God”). This title is a perfect illustration of the meaning of the texts – an idealized vision of the world. Arleen Augér provides sensitive and poetic interpretation far from Dorothea Röschmann’s darker vision (beautiful but missing the point), and Augér’s voice fits this programme perfectly. This disc is full of melodic inventiveness, and some of Handel’s finest dialogue between solo voice and chamber accompaniment. Here are nine miniature masterworks and fifty-three minutes of pure bliss.

Vol. 28:

Water Music  (HWV 348-350) 

Consort of London (on modern instruments)

Richard Haydon Clark

1 CD Brilliant Classics licensed from Collins Classics

Released in 2001 / Recorded in 1989






These brilliant orchestral suites were composed for King George I and first performed in 1717 during a short trip on the River Thames between London and Chelsea. Richard Haydon Clark conducts an honourable but slightly moderate version. The are many, many more contrasted and livelier versions, for example under John Eliot Gardiner or Jordi Savall (on period instruments) or under Neville Marriner or Raymond Leppard (on modern instruments).

Vol. 29:

Music for the Royal Fireworks a (HWV 351)

Oboe concerto n° 3a (HWV 287)

Harp concerto b (HWV 294)

Arrival of the Queen of Sheba c - from Solomon (HWV 67)

Concerto grosso op. 6 no. 8 d (HWV 326)

Robin Miller (oboe)

Maria Grafova (harp)

a: Scottish Chamber Orchestra (on modern instruments)

b: Janacek Philharmony (on modern instruments)

c: Orchestra of St John’s Smith Square (on modern instruments)

d: Lodz Chamber Orchestra (on modern instruments)

a: Alexander Gibson

b: Hartmut Haenchen

c: John Lubbock

d: Zdzislav Szostak

1 CD Brilliant Classics partly licensed from ASV (a &c)

Released in 2001 / Recorded in ?


The main work on this heterogeneous programme by various interpreters is the orchestral suite known as the “Music for the Royal Fireworks” and composed in 1749 for the celebration of the peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748) which put an end to the War of Austrian succession. This is another acceptable but less than fascinating version of this brilliant ceremonial piece. The interpretation of the rest of the programme is divided between prettiness and ennui.

Vol. 30-31:
Concerti grossi op. 3 a
(HWV 312-317)
Concerti a due cori
b (HWV 332-334)


a: Franz Liszt Chamber Orchestra (on modern instruments)

b: Neues Bachisches Collegium (on modern instruments)

a: János Rolla

b: Max Pommer

2 CD’s Brilliant Classics licensed from Hungaroton and Edel Classics GmbH (originally released separately)

Released in 2001
Recorded in 1984 (
a, Hungaroton) and 1980 (b, Edel Classics)



Here is a recording of some orchestral works composed by Handel, including Concerti a due cori composed during the late 1740s, and the Opus 3 Concerti grossi. The latter collection was probably composed during the 1710s and 1720s, and later collated by the publisher John Walsh. Both of the recordings are not bad but definitely sound a little old-fashioned. At least there are moments of some nice musicality in Opus 3, but the Concerti a due cori are particularly monotonous.

Vol. 32-34:

Organ concertos:
Op. 4
(HWV 289-294),
Op. 7
(HWV 306-311) &
The Cuckoo and the Nightingale
(HWV 295)


Ivan Sokol (organ)

Slovak Chamber Orchestra (on modern instruments)

Bohdan Warchal

3 CD’s Brilliant Classics

Released in 2001 / Recorded in ?



There is no information at all, not even a booklet, so the original date of first release or recording is unknown. Even if these performances are not amongst the worst volumes of this boxed set, they are only worth hearing for the quality and variety inherent in Handel’s music rather than the monotonous interpretations.

Vol. 35-40: Chamber Music


L’École d’Orphée presents:


Vol. 35: Flute sonatas

Stephen Preston (flute)

Susan Sheppard (cello)

Lucy Carolan, John Toll (harpsichord)


Vol. 36: Violin & Oboe sonatas

John Holloway (violin)

David Reichenberg (oboe)

Susan Sheppard (cello)

Lucy Carolan (harpsichord)


Vol. 37: Trio sonatas op. 2

John Holloway, Micaela Comberti (violin)

Stephen Preston (flute)

Philip Pickett (recorder)

Susan Sheppard (cello)

John Toll, Robert Woolley (harpsichord)


Vol. 38: Trio sonatas op. 5

John Holloway, Micaela Comberti (violin)

Susan Sheppard (cello)

Lucy Carolan (harpsichord)


Vol. 39 Trio sonatas

John Holloway, Micaela Comberti, Alison Bury (violin)

Susan Sheppard (cello)

Lucy Carolan, Robert Woolley (harpsichord)


Vol. 40: Recorder sonatas

Philip Pickett, Rachel Beckett (recorder)

Susan Sheppard (cello)

Lucy Carolan (harpsichord)


6 CD’s Brilliant Classics licensed from CRD

Released in 2001 / Recorded in 1991 [1984-1985]

Handel’s sonatas were partially published during the 1730s - Opus 1 in 1732, Opus 2 in 1733, and Opus 5 in 1739 – but they were composed throughout Handel’s earlier career, and some may even count as his earliest extant works. Even nowadays some of them are attributed to Handel without certainty. This is an excellent anthology, and maybe the best series of Handel’s chamber music available on disc. It also provides us with an opportunity to listen to sonata versions of melodies we usually associate with orchestral or vocal music, all played by the finest interpreters.

          Despite some dryness in John Holloway’s playing, the whole interpretation is particularly stylish and refined. The Opus 5 trio sonatas are as near to ideal as possible, as indeed are the variety of feelings expressed in some of the violin or oboe sonatas (vol. 36), or the irresistible melancholic charm of Opus 2. Of all the content in the Masterworks boxed set, these six discs by L’École d’Orphée are not to be missed. However, these six discs have also been reissued as self contained boxed set by the Regis label. In either reissue, they should form an essential part of every Handelians collection.


© Philippe Gelinaud - September 2002

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