Robert King follows up his recent, resplendent, critically acclaimed reconstruction of the Coronation of King George II (CDA67286) with some more Handel, this time in the form of his lesser-known one-act dramatic cantata, The Choice of Hercules. When Handel introduced English oratorios to London in the 1730s, he did not confine himself to sacred subjects, exploring also Classical myths, with texts based on Roman and Greek literature. The Choice of Hercules marks Handel s last realisation of a Classical tale. It started life in 1749 as music for Alceste, but the Covent Garden production was cancelled, leaving Handel with an hour of superb music on his hands. By the summer of 1750 he had adapted several numbers and added new ones, and in 1751 it premiered as an additional New Act concluding a performance of the ode Alexander s Feast. Much of the music from the original conception (the story of a loyal wife who dies to save her husband and is subsequently rescued from the Underworld by Hercules) transferred easily to its new guise, for example the noble opening Sinfonia, originally intended to mark Hercules return from the Underworld, now entirely apt for the entrance of the young Hercules in the new drama. Hercules choice is thus: on the verge of manhood, he is contemplating his future when two women appear to him. One, Vice, eager and seductive, shows him a path which seems to offer easy progress to a life of indolent pleasure. The other, tall and beautiful and identified as Virtue, warns Hercules that what is truly good can only be obtained through hard effort; and only then can Hercules gain supreme glory. Also on this disc is an anthem by Maurice Greene, a contemporary of Handel, and by all accounts an arch rival, particularly when Handel was chosen above Greene by George II to write the new anthems for his coronation. Full marks to Robert King who has assembled yet again a formidably superb collection of artists to perform this particularly attractive repertoire.
THE 2003 INTERNATIONAL HANDEL RECORDING PRIZE 'The Choice of Hercules is one of Handel's best-kept secrets ... Robert King and his expert team evidently relish the work s hedonistic charms' (The Daily Telegraph) 'A delightful sequence of 24 brief numbers telling the story of Hercules making his choice between Virtue and Pleasure ... Robert King brings out the unquenchable freshness of invention that Handel retained even in his last years, with the choir and players of The King's Consort consistently responsive and resilient' (The Guardian) 'Susan Gritton and Alice Coote are exquisite as Pleasure and Virtue. A delightful rarity, coupled with an appealing anthem by Handel's English contemporary Maurice Greene' (The Sunday Times) 'And about time too! An admirable addition to Robert King's ongoing Hyperion Handel series' (International Record Review) 'Strong choral singing and excellent orchestral playing add to the merits of a performance that bears all the characteristic hallmarks of Robert King's stylish, vital direction ... Strongly recommended' (Goldberg) 'This is a lovely performance. All the soloists are in exceptionally good voice ... Robert King directs proceedings with his spry confidence' (Evening Standard) 'Another major release from one of our most accomplished Baroque outfits' (Organists' Review) 'a glowing and altogether irresistible sound' (Fanfare, USA) 'excellent soloists ... nicely pointed playing and singing from orchestra and chorus' (Early Music News) 'In its colour and tunefulness this is extracted essence of Handel, immaculately performed by Robert King s finely disciplined forces' (Musical Opinion) 'Robert King is a fine Handelian, in that he uses the best players and some of the more characterful singers around ... some very fine singing (Early Music Review) 'Fine notes and full texts complete yet another example of King's superlative recording activities a must for Handelians' (American Record Guide) 'The confident performance by The King's Consort is compelling and full of refinement, catching the music s flavour and drama brilliantly' (Cathedral Music) 'this new recording of the little-known Choice Of Hercules is a welcome addition to their discography ... As usual with The King s Consort recordings, the playing of the musicians is tight and balanced, with a fine equilibrium between soloists, chorus and orchestra' --(musicweb.uk.net)