Joseph And His Brethren Box-Set
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Joseph and his Brethren, The next in The King's Consort's mammoth series of recordings of the grand oratorios of Handel, tells the story of Joseph, sold into slavery by his perfidious brothers, winning acceptance at the court of Pharaoh in Egypt by his interpretation of the dreams foretelling seven years of plenty, and seven of famine. His brothers come from drought-ridden Israel to beg for food, and are eventually reunited with Joseph. The work is characteristically full of melodic invention and drama, culminating in the scene between Joseph and his youngest and innocent brother Benjamin (here sung by the stunning treble Connor Burrowes) in which Joseph is emotionally overcome and admits his true identity. No wonder the work was so warmly received at its first performance.
'I have no reservations about encouraging anyone interested in Handel to buy this set and to acquaint themselves with the many delights of this grossly neglected work' (Gramophone) 'A must for all dedicated Handelians' (Classic CD) 'Mi recomendación más absoluta … Tres horas de deleite musical que no se debe perder' (CD Compact, Spain) 'This is as fine a case as one could imagine being made for the work' (American Record Guide) 'Robert King and Hyperion can be more than satisfied with another fine addition to their steadily-increasing Handel discography' (Organists' Review) 'No lover of Handel should be without this wonderful work, now at last done justice on CD' (Hi-Fi News) 'With first-rate casts and careful attention to Handel's original texts, King has blown the dust off some magnificent music' --BBC Record Review
Doch während die Handlung auseinander zu fallen scheint, hält Händels Musik alles zusammen. Selten hat er so dicht und geschlossen komponiert. Schon die Ouvertüre gehört zu seinen allerbesten! Sämtliche Arien und Chöre sind großartig. Das Finale des 1. Akts mit der Arie „Since the race of time began" und dem Chor „Swift our number, swiftly roll" ist schlichtweg überwältigend und steht dem „Let the bright Seraphim"/"Let their celestial concerts all unite" aus „Samson" in nichts nach. Insgesamt bewegt sich „Joseph" musikalisch auf gleichem Niveau wie „Judas Maccabaeus" und „Joshua", wenn nicht gar darüber!
Die Interpretation von Robert King ist die einzige derzeit verfügbare. Die Solisten sind altbewährt: Catherine Denley, John Mark Ainsley, James Bowman, Michael George... Lediglich Emma Kirkby wurde hier duch Yvonne Kenny ersetzt, deren Stimme an Barnbara Hendricks erinnert und einfach mehr dramatische Tiefe besitzt.
Dies ist Musik, die Leben retten kann! Meins hat sie jedenfalls gerettet.
Fürs Libretto gibt's bei mir keinen Punktabzug in der B-Note. Ich kann nicht anders: Volle Punktzahl!!!
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Miller's libretto is not bad, although not comparable with what Jennens could do, as in Samson not to say Messiah itself. The diction is straight out of the trite 18th-century phrase-mill admittedly. However an oratorio libretto, focusing less on action than an opera book would need to and more on simple situations and statements, is really a far harder thing to get wrong, and Miller seems to me to turn out a perfectly adequate piece of work. Handel, predictably, does much better. I would not myself quite rate Joseph with Samson or Belshazzar, but there's not much I would rate with those. It seems that Handel had the time to compose Joseph mainly from scratch without borrowings or adaptations or recycling, but all his familiar magic is here again.
I have got used to Robert King's Handel issues by now, and I think I admire them more with every successive acquisition. As an exponent of the `authentic' school of ancient music he seems to me more relaxed than, for example, McCreesh does. This way of interpreting Handel and Bach has gradually imbued our culture over the last 30 years, but to whatever extent there is still resistance to be overcome King is more urbane in the way he overcomes it. I'd guess that the main stumbling-block for conservative listeners in this performance would be the counter-tenor role of Joseph, sung by James Bowman. This is one of the two lead parts, along with that of Asenath sung by Yvonne Kenny. As well as carrying the spotlight, the counter-tenor voice is also deployed face-to-face in the scenes with the boy treble role of Benjamin. Bowman is of course a total professional and expert in this kind of music, but it may be that his particular tone and enunciation could fatigue the ear after a while, and I wonder whether any consideration was given to casting Michael Chance instead. Whatever - I'll never know that, and Bowman performs with his familiar artistry. I can't imagine who Yvonne Kenny might seem controversial to, and she seems to me superb from beginning to end. With Catherine Denley, John Mark Ainsley and Michael George in the other parts quality and beauty of sound are guaranteed, and a particular prize should go to the youngster Connor Burrowes as Benjamin. If this is a cameo role it's quite a big cameo role, and he carries it off with aplomb. The orchestral contribution is magnificent as usual, and the choir sing as if inspired from above. Considering what they are given to sing this is only what one would hope for and expect. I tend to think that Handel's choral writing could make a heavenly host out of a choir of orcs.
With Joseph my collection of the oratorios of Handel (17 of them on my own definition) is now complete. They are a musical world of their own, and they are one of the crowning glories of European music. I don't expect I have stopped collecting them, because fine though the accounts that I own from King and others are, music of this stature benefits from a range of interpretations, as indeed does the music of far lower stature that is more commonly performed. Apart from adding what must be, after what I have just said, a superfluous recommendation of this magnificent set, and expressing my thanks to Robert King and to Hyperion, there seems to be little else to say - unless perhaps `Hallelujah'.
King represents the culmination of the Period Performance movement that began in the 1950's. What was once new and strange to many, with concomitant controversy, is now ubiquitous practice for early music and not uncommon for the 19th Century repertoire. King, therefore, uses the so-called Authentic Period Style as just another means of expression and not a clarion call. This is significent for it frees him to adopt instrumental and vocal textures of exquisite delicacy. His are the most "French" sounding performances of this repertoire: crystalline and precise vocal expression. Soft and effortless instrumental lines. The two married into a structure of such rhythmic sleight-of-hand as to suggest the nearly unaccented sound of French Poetry.
These traits are all in evidence here. Set to a Libretto by James Miller, an Oxford-educated Vicar, and based on stories from the Old Testament, most of the music is newly composed by Handel. The singers are all associated with Mr. King and have rarely sounded better. Soprano Yvonne Kenny is wonderful as Asenath, singing with restrained passion about, well, restraining passion. James Bowman, Countertenor, sings Joseph and is an old hand to this repetoire. He brings his years of experience to the part, "living in the role". Joseph MUST have sounded like this (if he sang all the time). Bass Michael George playing Pharoah brings authority to his portrayal. His voice is one of the most refined Basses I've heard. John Mark Ainsley, well known and one of my favorite Tenors, sings the dual roles of Simeon and Judah, Brothers to Joseph. He is superb. Mezzo Soprano Catherine Denley and Treble Connor Burrowes round out the cast.
Make no mistake, this is an ensemble performance: the music demands it. The Choir of the King's Consort is magnificent. Choral outbursts are dramatic yet restrained. Commentary is perfection. This is one of the world's greatest vocal ensembles. As for the King's Consort itself, is there anywhere a finer instrumental assembly specializing in the Baroque repertoire? The credit for these accumulating superlatives must ultimately go to Mr. King. And to Hyperion for consistently releasing recordings of greatness. I urge anyone interested in Handel to try this recording. 5 stars for a masterpiece that has finally seen the light of day.
While the recitatives may not be the very best music, on average, one has the feeling that Handel could set the Manhattan telephone book to choral music and have it come out sounding great. The choruses are not as famous as in Handel's greatest oratorio, 'The Messiah', but they are great indeed.
The main question one must ask oneself is whether you are willing to sit through the instrumental parts and the recitatives until you get to the 'good stuff' in the choruses. Of course, the very best thing about the recitatives is that they are all in English. No wading through English translations of German, Italian, or French!.
If you like sacred music, but are bored with masses, this is a great listen!
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