George Fr. Handel · Jephtha
The English Oratorio HWV 70,
performed according to the traditions of the time
by Emma Kirkby (Soprano),
Melinda Paulsen (Mezzo-Soprano),
Charles Humphries (Countertenor),
Julian Podger (Tenor),
Stephen Varcoe (Bass),
Monastery Baroque Orchestra,
Maulbronn Chamber Choir (Maulbronner Kammerchor).
Conductor: Jürgen Budday.
A concert recording from the church of the German
UNESCO World Heritage Site Maulbronn Monastery
2-CD-Box · DDD · c. 150 Minutes
his live recording is part of a cycle of oratorios and masses, performed in the basilica of Maulbronn Abbey under the direction of Jürgen Budday. The series combines authentically performed oratorios and masses with the optimal acoustics and atmosphere of this unique monastic church. This ideal location demands the transparency of playing and the interpretive unveiling of the rhetoric intimations of the composition, which is especially aided by the historically informed performance. The music is exclusively performed on reconstructed historical instruments, which are tuned to the pitch customary in the composer's lifetimes (this performance is tuned in a' = 415 Hz).
ephta was Handel's last work of great dimensions. It was written in 1751 in London. It was performed for the first time at Covent Garden at february, 26. in 1752. Händel's last dramatical work was in the same time the most poetic of his oratories. The tension is not created by action but by the inner aspect of Jephta'ss unsolvible solitude. Expelled from Gilead by his half-brothers, he grows up in exile and becomes a god-fearing army commander, while Gilead is suppressed by the Ammonites. After 18 years of slavery, the eldest of Gilead ask Jephta to free them from their tyrants. As army commander, Jephta swears his god Jehova to sacrifice to him the first creature he will meet after victory. He can't see that it's his own daughter Iphis to take this burdon upon her shoulders. The desperation of Jephta, mother Storge and lover Hamor is met by the courage of Iphis, who comes to show herself as a true heroine. The tragical conflict of the sacrifice of his own daughter is turned to a good end, inspite of the outlines of the old testament. The music is of an overwhelming forcefulness and beauty. Jephta's importance is based in the first place on the imposing choir scenes. The choir has double function: at one hand he takes part in action actively, on the other hand he stays in the backround and comments on the story.
Second, I suspected that the recordings themselves might be filled with ambient and background noises since these were the result of live performances.
I have been extremely pleased with the technical aspects of the recordings: they are 'clean' and clear with very little extraneous sounds. The engineering of these recordings is highly commendable!!
Finally, the orchestral playing by the Barockorchester der Klosterkonzerte and the participation of the Maulbronner Kammerchor are nearly flawless. The string playing is especially strong, and the choruses - filled with drama and emotion - are executed at the highest possible level. Even the pronunciation and intonation of the English is perfect.
In sum, I could not be happier with these two superb recordings. Already possessing several recorded versions of each of these masterful oratorios, I felt that it would be difficult to match the strength and quality of, for example, the performance under John Elliot Gardiner.
These two new additions by K&K Verlagsanstalt to the recorded Handel repertoire are magnificent models, exemplary of how to bring these monumental works to life for the modern audience. The crisp, clear recording, the excellent engineering, the incredible acoustics, the superb performances make these two of the best Handel compact discs I have purchased in a long time.
I should be most happy if you would keep my name on your mailing list, since I would like to be informed when your fine enterprise releases any more Baroque repertoire. These are performances to be treasured and are of the highest caliber of historically-informed practice.
The resonant church recording enriches the sound of the choir. The orchestra is hearty and the conductor, Jürgen Budday, draws some buoyant rhythms from them in the faster music.
The strongest inducement to buy this set lies in the loveliness of Emma Kirkby's singing. This is no longer the exquisite, delicate thread of sound that it once was, but it is still exquisite and delicate while being much fuller and richer, and her characterisation of lphis, the daughter of Jephtha who 'must a victim fall' because of his 'impious vow' to sacrifice the first person he encounters after victory. Listen to her wonderfully shapely and natural singing of 'Tune the soft melodious lute', for example, or 'Farewell, ye limpid springs and floods', as she movingly welcomes death.
Storgè is sung with strength and clarity by Melinda Paulsen (who also does the Angel air in Part 3). Jephtha himself is well taken by Julian Podger, a very capable singer. He is at his best in the heroic music, such as 'His mighty arm'. Zebul is warmly and sensitively sung by Stephen Varcoe, Charles Humphries provides an able Hamor, duetting gracefully with Emma Kirkby in two numbers.