- Alexander's Feast, ode for St. Cecilia's Day, HWV 75
George Frideric Handel: Alexander's Feastby Joachim Carlos Martini
Handel's "Alexander's Feast" is a long two-part ode set to an adapted John Dryden poem about the power of music. It barely fits on one CD, and then only with the omission of a short associated concerto. Yet it's shorter than a full-length oratorio, and the conjunction of Handel's music and Dryden's poetry is singularly attractive. The work ought to be at the top rank of Handel hits, but for the present it's perhaps a notch below that. There are plenty of recordings of the work by big English names, and it's questionable how much of a market there is for this slightly German-accented version from the Junge Kantorei and Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra under Joachim Carlos Martini. Yet actually the English diction from this all-German group is strong enough that an anglophone listener can mostly avoid consulting the online texts (which also include a German translation). And the Junge Kantorei, from central Germany (they are not specifically youthful), is a regional choir with church origins that delivers a clear, transcendent sound in the later sections of the works, which ascends toward calm rather than a slam-bang finale. The Naxos label has uncovered any number of these German choirs and shows no signs of exhausting the source. The soloists are not on a par with the athleticism of the leading Handelian singers, but soprano Gerlinde Sämann, has an affecting tone. The bottom line is that there are stronger recordings of "Alexander's Feast" out there, but this one has an X factor, connected with the musicians' direct response to what they are singing and playing, that makes it worth your time.
- Release Date:
Performance CreditsJoachim Carlos Martini Primary Artist
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This disc contains both parts of the Ode written in honor of St. Cecilia, HWV 75. The piece itself marries detailed music making and requires solid vocal contributions from the featured soloists, while at the same time not coming across as too heavy sounding. This demands a joyful and energetic touch from the orchestra (and its conductor), as well as inspired performances from the soloists. The Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra more than does its job here, providing deliciously enjoyable music for the soloists to launch themselves from. Unfortunately, while each individual soloist performs their role well, the performances themselves rarely sparkle -- each featured solo and recitative are executed correctly, but as a whole there seems to be something missing. I cannot point to one particular thing that seems lacking - rather, as a whole it seems as if either the orchestra outshines the soloists, or the soloists can't quite match the orchestra's energy level. With respect to recording quality, the piece itself is well recorded, and the acoustics of the venue are certainly adequate. But again, there is *something* lacking. That being said, if what you are looking for is a recording of this piece that you can put on in the background and not worry about being suddenly distracted, then this is definitely a recording worth purchasing - ditto if you are looking to complete a collection of Handel's works. On the other hand, if you want a performance that enthralls you and makes you stop what you are doing to pay attention to it, then this probably won't fit the bill.