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Athalia [Import]

Joan Sutherland Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Disc: 1
1. Act One, Scene 1: Sinf - The Academy Of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood
2. Act One, Scene 1: Aria: Blooming Virgins, Spotless Train - Emma Kirkby
3. Act One, Scene 1: Chor: The Rising World Jehovah Crown'd - Chor Of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom
4. Act One, Scene 1: Solo & Chor: Tyrants Would In Impious Throngs - Emma Kirkby/Chor Of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom
5. Act One, Scene 1: Recitative: When He Is In His Wrath Reveal'd - David Thomas
6. Act One, Scene 2: Recitative: Your Sacred Songs Awhile Forbear - James Bowman
7. Act One, Scene 3: Recitative: What Scenes Of Horror Round Me Rise! - Joan Sutherland
8. Act One, Scene 3: Chor: The Gods, Who Chosen Blessings Shed - Chor Of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom
9. Act One, Scene 3: Chor: Cheer Her, O Baal - Chor Of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom
10. Act One, Scene 3: Aria: Gentle Airs, Melodious Strains! - Anthony Rolfe Johnson
See all 14 tracks on this disc
Disc: 2
1. Act Two, Scene 1: Chor: The Mighty Pow'r - Chor Of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom
2. Act Two, Scene 1: Aria: Through The Land So Lovely Blooming - Emma Kirkby
3. Act Two, Scene 1: Aria: Ah Canst Thou But Prove Me!/Scene 2: Recitative: Confusion To My Thoughts! - David Thomas/Joan Sutherland
4. Act Two, Scene 2: Aria: Will God, Whose Mercies Ever Flow - Aled Jones
5. Act Two, Scene 2: Aria: My Vengeance Awakes Me - Joan Sutherland
6. Act Two, Scene 2: Duet: My Spirits Fail, I Faint, I Die!/Scene 3: Recitative: Dear Josabeth - Emma Kirkby/Aled Jones/James Bowman
7. Act Two, Scene 3: Duet: Cease Thy Anguish, Smile Once More - James Bowman/Emma Kirkby
8. Act Two, Scene 3: Chor: The Clouded Scene Begins To Clear - Chor Of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom
9. Act Three, Scene 1: Recitative: What Sacred Horrors Shake My Breast! - James Bowman
10. Act Three, Scene 1: Chor: Unfold, Great Seer, What Heav'n Imparts - Chor Of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom
See all 19 tracks on this disc

Product Description

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Messiah is the best known of Handel's oratorios, but it's far from typical. More common are Old Testament narratives such as Israel in Egypt, Joshua, and Saul. One of Handel's finest such efforts is Athalia, a tightly constructed, vivid retelling of the downfall of tyrannical Queen Athalia, daughter of Jezebel and worshiper of Baal. This superb 1985 recording was controversial in its initial release, due to the casting in the title role of the soon-to-retire Joan Sutherland--not the diva you'd expect to find starring in a period-practice Handel performance. Dame Joan doesn't exactly fit in with the baroque instruments (she overwhelms the obbligato flute in one aria) or with her colleagues (all Hogwood regulars), but her performance works: the tormented Athalia comes off as a creature very much separated from those around her, and Sutherland's notoriously mushy diction and inept acting are replaced by clear enunciation and real dramatic involvement. Anthony Rolfe Johnson, James Bowman (in unusually good voice), David Thomas, and the young Aled Jones all do sterling work as well. Then there's the radiant Emma Kirkby, who sings her high-flying, florid role with remarkable clarity, precision, and imagination. Check out her opening aria, "Blooming virgins": you won't find a better example of how to embellish a da capo aria--or how to transform a simply lilting song into a thrilling showpiece. --Matthew Westphal

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5.0 out of 5 stars DAUGHTER OF JEZEBEL March 27 2004
This welcome reissue comes under the auspices of The Gramophone magazine, which had given it their choral award in 1987. The Gramophone was founded originally by Sir Compton Mackenzie (author of Whisky Galore) and has thrived throughout my lifetime as a reliable source of informed comment on and evaluation of classical music on record. I can't now remember, supposing I even knew, what other runners there may have been in that particular stakes, but there will not have been many better choral sets than this in most years.
Athalia was written in 1733 and received its first performance in Oxford's Sheldonian theatre, where commemorative performances still take place. It is based on Racine's Athalie, the English adaptation having been given, regrettably, to Samuel Humphreys. Humphreys was by no means the equal of Morell or Jennens who collaborated with Handel on Theodora and on Saul and Samson respectively. He was a fourth-rate hack, representative of the lowest common denominator of 18th century English poetry, and his vocabulary and diction are as trite as can be. Nevertheless the strength and simplicity of Racine's basic plot is still sufficient to provide Handel with a good enough foundation for his oratorio. Athalia was a tyrannical queen, a worshipper of Baal who had established domination over the Jews, the daughter of Jezebel who visited her in a dream and gave her the premonition of her impending overthrow and death. There are only six characters in total, plus of course the chorus, and the most significant of these other than Athalia is the boy Joas, the true king of Judah.
The casting of these two characters, who dominate the story although they do not have the largest share of the music, is what makes all the difference to a performance of Athalia.
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Amazon.com: 3.5 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars DAUGHTER OF JEZEBEL March 27 2004
By DAVID BRYSON - Published on Amazon.com
This welcome reissue comes under the auspices of The Gramophone magazine, which had given it their choral award in 1987. The Gramophone was founded originally by Sir Compton Mackenzie (author of Whisky Galore) and has thrived throughout my lifetime as a reliable source of informed comment on and evaluation of classical music on record. I can't now remember, supposing I even knew, what other runners there may have been in that particular stakes, but there will not have been many better choral sets than this in most years.
Athalia was written in 1733 and received its first performance in Oxford's Sheldonian theatre, where commemorative performances still take place. It is based on Racine's Athalie, the English adaptation having been given, regrettably, to Samuel Humphreys. Humphreys was by no means the equal of Morell or Jennens who collaborated with Handel on Theodora and on Saul and Samson respectively. He was a fourth-rate hack, representative of the lowest common denominator of 18th century English poetry, and his vocabulary and diction are as trite as can be. Nevertheless the strength and simplicity of Racine's basic plot is still sufficient to provide Handel with a good enough foundation for his oratorio. Athalia was a tyrannical queen, a worshipper of Baal who had established domination over the Jews, the daughter of Jezebel who visited her in a dream and gave her the premonition of her impending overthrow and death. There are only six characters in total, plus of course the chorus, and the most significant of these other than Athalia is the boy Joas, the true king of Judah.
The casting of these two characters, who dominate the story although they do not have the largest share of the music, is what makes all the difference to a performance of Athalia. Joas is sung by the (then) boy treble prodigy Aled Jones, who now fronts a maudlin piece of Sunday evening religiosity known as Songs of Praise. For the evil queen someone had the inspired idea of inviting Joan Sutherland to take the part. She is a great Handelian of course, but an unfamiliar figure in Ancient Music circles. The role calls for a diva, someone with a big voice and a background in opera. Thus cast, the queen is admirably contrasted with the clear, bright voice of Emma Kirkby as Josabeth and the surprisingly strong treble tone of Aled Jones. The other parts are taken by the familiar cast of James Bowman, Anthony Rolfe Johnson and David Thomas with the choir of New College, Oxford, and the period-instrument ensemble is drawn from the Academy of Ancient Music under Hogwood. Here Hogwood does not, as he famously did in his epoch-marking Messiah, seem to be after speed records. The harpsichord continuo is fairly prominent, which I expect will not suit everyone, but it is done with predictable proficiency by Alistair Ross.
Given the general assumptions behind it, the performance seems to me in every respect admirable. One does not encounter performances of Athalia at every turn, to say the least, and I feel little or no inclination to look for faults with this one. It is absolutely wonderful music and the performance is a delightful mixture of the proven and reliable with the innovative and imaginative. I have no complaints about the recording either and there is a very helpful liner note by Winton Dean.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Athalia, another mighty fall'n. Aug. 14 2011
By Anna Shlimovich - Published on Amazon.com
On 7 April 1733 London magazine Applebee's Weekly Journal reported: "As we learned, the University of Oxford has conferred a doctorate of music on the famous Mr. On this occasion, the journal will be covering the performances of the Oratorio to be compos'd". Three months later Handel traveled to Oxford with his musicians, where he had led not only an oratorio, but also presented an extensive guest program. There was no more talk of the doctorate - why Handel had rejected the award was never clarified. Possibly the Applebee-Schreiber premature announcement angered Handel's enemies at Oxford, or perhaps he was unwilling to pay 100 pounds for the honor; however he had accepted the invitation of the University Vice Chancellor Dr. William Holmes for the elaborate ceremony known as the "Publick Act" and for conducting several performances of his music.

By mid-April of 1733 Handel was occupied with performances in London. Immediately afterwards he began the composition of the new oratorio Athalia, which he completed on June 7, 1733. He had immediately notified Dr. Holmes about it, and also mentioned that the effort and expense would be too high for the trip, if he was to give only two performances of Athalia. It was agreed that he would stay in Oxford for eight days and perform the oratorios Deborah, Athalia and Esther with revivals of "Acis and Galatea". The event caused considerable attendance - according to Read's Weekly Journal of July 7, 1733, hundreds of music lovers streamed in the college town from London; almost all of the houses for the higher and lower nobility were in attendance, and it was difficult to rent a house within three or four miles for this great opportunity to listen to the splendid music.

Very few at Oxford could suspect that Handel was running into major difficulties with casting. Everything indicates that the role of Joad was intended for Senesino, but the castrato and other Handel's singers from his Italian Opera Company have just recently defected to the newly founded competing Opera of the Nobility. The bass Antonio Montagnana, the originally proposed Abner, had just sung in Deborah and Esther at the King's Theater in the spring. But now the only singer remaining faithful to Handel was Anna Strada del Po. Nevertheless, the always industrious and entrepreneurial Handel managed to engage adequate singers from Lincoln's Inn Fields Theatre, and the premiere was sung by many otherwise unknown English names - Athalia was sung by Mrs. Wright in the title role, Anna Strada del Po was singing Josabeth, a boy by the name Goodwill was Joas, the Oxford singer Walter Powell - Joad, Gaetano Philippo Rocchetti - Mathan and Gustavus Waltz - Abner. The choir came together from the best singers of the college, and the orchestra, which was distinguished by an unusually large cast, was comprised from some sitting members of the Royal Opera Orchestra and musicians from Oxford. Altogether about seventy singers and instrumentalists formed the ensemble that had delivered the Handel's program in Oxford.

On 5 July Handel began his concert programme, starting with the oratorio "Esther" in the academic hall, the Sheldonian Theatre, where the first part of "Publick Act" was to start on the next day. After a repeat performance of Esther on July 7, Handel had conducted the Utrecht Te Deum and several anthems on July 8 in the church of St. Mary's, and "Athalia" was supposed to be heard on July 9.

However, the premiere happened on July 10 instead because the "Publick Act" lasted longer than anticipated. The premier of "Athalia" was preceded by an organ prelude with virtuoso improvisation by the composer, which greatly excited the audience. Consequently, "Athalia" enjoyed great triumph, and when Handel left Oxford for London, on July 13th, he had with him 2000 pounds as a material sign of the audience admiration for his art.

Handel's first English oratorio is Esther (1718/1732); together with subsequent Deborah (1733) and then Athalia (1733) they form a kind of trilogy: each of these works tells a story of how the Israelites with Jehovah's help were rescued from a serious hardship. Three women are the focus of attention. Two of them, Esther and Deborah, are traditionally depicted as courageous, energetic, and adored by their people; Queen Athalia, however, is as tyrannical Baal-follower, a negative principal character, so much that one might wonder why the oratorio is not named after Josabeth.

One reason might be the popularity of the literary text: Athalie, Jean Racine's last tragedy (1691), intended for the education of the girl's college founded by Madame de Maintenon at Saint-Cyr, was written as a classic French tragedy with choruses after the Greek manner, based on the text from Old Testament. As such a mix it presented an interesting opportunity for Handel to create an oratorio on rich subject, opulently adorned with magnificent choruses. Racine had already incorporated music for choruses in his previous play Esther, likewise written for Saint-Cyr. Handel's librettist for all the three oratorios was Samuel Humphreys, ready to collaborate with the composer to satisfy his demands. Athalia is thereby is a mix of Old Testament, Greek tragedy, French tradition, English translation and German music.

At Oxford, where for centuries great theologians were bred, most listeners knew of course the parts of the Old Testament that represented "Athalia" - Second Book of Kings, Chapter 11 (1-20) and Second Book of Chronicles 22 (10-23, 15). The story takes place 836 BC, i.e. about 150 years after the reign of David. Although idolatry is still practiced in the two parts of the empire of Israel and Judah, there still applies the prophecy that the Messiah will come from the house of David. This is why the fact of the rescue of Prince Joash (Joas in the oratorio) takes on such an importance - Queen Athaliah, a historical figure, believes that all the male descendants of the Davidian dynasty had been killed. In this context, Josabeth and Joad (his foster parents) serve to ensure the fulfillment of the divine plan of salvation.

The libretto omits the actual Biblical story, which needs to be understood to better appreciate the music. Joas was the son of Ahaziah, King of Judah. Ahaziah's parents were King Joram of Judah and Queen Athaliah, the heroine of the opera. She traces her origins to Queen Dido and Phoenicians through her mother Jezebel, who passed to her daughter her worship of Baal. Jezebel was persecuted so severely that her name became synonymous with moral corruption; she suffered an ignominious death (she was thrown from a window and eaten by dogs), to demonstrate a prime example of the divine punishment. Joas, the only surviving grandson of Athaliah, was under the protection of his aunt - or Joscheba. Josabeth was a daughter of King Joram; this is why in the oratorio she is addressed as a Princess. King Joram had many wives, making it uncertain of who was Joscheba's mother. A passage from the Bible (Second Book of Kings, 11, 2) suggests, however, that Joscheba was Ataliah's daughter, and thus the drama gets an extra dimension to represent a mother-daughter conflict, thereby giving ideas to some interpreters, like Winton Dean, of Athalia being Jewish Clytemnestra.

Just as with the Greek Queen, the morale of the story of this Jewish Queen was to affirm the idea of women unfit to govern, and conversely, to the righteousness and divine preference for the male rule; from the anthropological point of view, the fall of these queens expressed the continuous subjugation of women from antiquity to the oppression of men into our days. Sallic Law and other later Judeo-Christian laws forbidding women to inherit the throne and to head the government may have derived from these legends.

In Athalia Handel created his first full-fledged English oratorio, complete with arias expressing every emotion - from pastoral serenity of Josabeth to deep anguish, pride and wrath of Athalia, from arrogant innocence of Joas to assuredness of Joad, from weakness of Mathan to steadfastness of Abner. Yet at the center of the work stands the chorus, expressing both Baalites and Israelites with equal ardor and sympathy.

As it was his custom, Handel had borrowed extensively from himself and other composers, and some pieces anticipate future works. Here are a few examples:

1). Abner's aria "When he is in his wrath" is very much alike Zoroastro's aria in opera "Orlando"
2). Mathan's aria "Gentle airs, melodious strains" strongly reminds of the future Dejanira's aria "There in myrtle shades reclin'd" from "Hercules"
3). The splendid Hallelujah is a double fugue derived from Chandos Anthem "As pants the hart"
4). Joad's "Gloomy tyrants" recall a movement in the Brockes Passion
5). Joad's "Cease thy anguish" melody will be reused for the minuet in Overture to "Berenice, Regina di Egitto"
6). Mathan aria "Hark! His thunders round me roll" in the motif of the quivering strings clearly refers to the famous "Chorus of Cold People (See, see, we first assemble ..] we chatter and trembIe) from Henry Purcell's semi-opera King Arthur (1691).

My favorite music is nonetheless that of Athalia. The Queen, traumatized by memories of the murder of her mother, Jezebel, is a complex, empathetic figure whose difficult, operatic music delineates her as a doomed outsider in a work that otherwise strives for expressive simplicity. Joan Sutherland is adequate in the role, although I was fortunate enough to hear Athalia this 2011 year in Marktkirche during Halle Handel Festival, with Isabel Bayrakdarian in the title role and Nicolas McGegan conducting. Bayrakdarian is a fiery soprano in the full might of her powers, and she delivered a passionate performance that Sutherland here cannot match. One can compare Bayrakdarian/McGegan execution of "My vengeance awakes me" in my YouTube link with this recording's Sutherland/Hogwood's - Sutherland embellishments at the end of the aria are quite ridiculous, since this aria is supposed to express unrestrained vengeful wrath of the angered Queen.
Christopher Hogwood conducting is expertly, expressive, accentuated; comparing him with McGegan version, it is somewhat slow! I supply a link to YouTube in the comments section for those who want to see and hear McGegan performance in comparison.

I like on this recording that Joas is sung by a boy, in line with the premiere.

Emma Kirkby is flawless, as always, a voice of an angel, representing here the purity, good and right - in contrast with Sutherland's Athalia darker hues.

James Bowman is excellent; I loved him in Orlando in another Hogwood's recording with Emma Kirkby as well. One can compare him with Terry Wey who sang Joad in Halle; posted on YouTube. Anthony Rolfe Johnson still has no rivals in Handel's tenor repertoire.

The chorus in Hogwood's version is great; the only thing is, just as with other oratorios like "Israel in Egypt", these better be heard live, then they shake the heart and soul, and make one admire the divine genius of the composer.

Overall it is a classic recording, and I recommend it, while I take one star away for Sutherland's lack of brilliance.
5.0 out of 5 stars Masterful Jan. 27 2012
By Kelvin Brown - Published on Amazon.com
This recording also boasts an all-star period performer cast of David Thomas, Emma Kirkby, Anthony Rolfe-Johnson, and Paul Bowman with Dame Joan Sutherland singing the title role of Athalia. Again, the soloists are the star here. The choir is much powerful than in the Messiah recording, and whether just listening for the music or following along the storyline for the drama, this is a masterful recording.

Queen Athalia is a Baal-worshipper, daughter of the Jezebel. Her chief general, Abner, secretly calls for the worship of Yahweh under the legitimate king, the boy Joas (the real heir to the throne). He has been raised in secret, and when the truth will come out, Athalia goes on the war path. The role of Athalia calls for a fiery singer, and Sutherland gives it her operatic best. Although she was quite past her prime when this recording was made, she is wonderful in the role of Athalia. Her voice is old, and she sings with quite a bit more vibrato than the rest of the cast, making her stand out at times. But on the whole, she is quite effective in this role. Nothing like her earlier performances of Donzinetti, but when called for, she brings forth the wrath and fury the role calls for. At times, you can actually sympathize with Athalia, give perspective and a point of view you wouldn't get otherwise.

The choir is magnificent. "Cheer Her, Oh Ba'al" will send chills down your spine. This is one of the pieces where Hogwood's musical insight and inspiration just soars. On "The Clouded Scene Shall Clear" we hear a perfect balance of orchestra and chorus - the strings are practically dancing - and Hogwood is using dynamics and variations in tempo to great dramatic effect that far exceeds anything we see in his earlier performances of other Handel works.

On the whole, Athalia lacks in the number of memorable, hooky tunes that Handel seemed to front load in "Messiah." But a fine addiction to any collection of Handel or Baroque oratorio.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Delightful Recording March 1 2011
By Aronne - Published on Amazon.com
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The casting of a 58 year-old Joan Sutherland as Athalia is going to make or break the recording for most. I for one, think it a fabulous idea. Sutherland was among the foremost in the Baroque revivals of the 50s and 60s. Her live 1959 Alcina and studio 1959 Acis and Galatea will put to rest any doubts about her superb technique and Baroque sensibilities.

By 1985, Sutherland was well past her prime, but the sound works well as Athalia, underlining the distinction between the Baalite queen and the rest of the characters. If your only reason for buying this set is Sutherland, her main aria from this recording ("My vengeance awakes me") has been reissued on the 6CD set, The Art of Joan Sutherland.

Christopher Hogwood conducts vivaciously, as usual, leading the usual cast of singers.

James Bowman makes a strong case for using countertenors over mezzo-sopranos in castrati roles. His singing is of great beauty and intelligence. The phrasing in his aria, "O Judah," shows exquisite attention to the interplay of the text and music.

Emma Kirkby sings with her usual purity of voice. Her smaller tone contrasts well with Sutherland's overbearing Queen Athalia. Work of similar quality comes from David Thomas as Abner and Anthony Rolfe Johnson as the priest Mathan.

Highly recommended, particularly if you don't mind Dame Joan's older voice. This is a Handel oratorio chocked full of wonderful choral and solo singing.
1 of 12 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The countertenor ruined it. Dec 23 2009
By Celia J. Berveiler - Published on Amazon.com
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This would have been a great CD set if the role of Joad had been given to a female contralto with a sumptuous voice replete with red corpuscle--Maureen Forrester, for example. Unfortunately, a "countertenor" squeaked it. All other singers of adult roles have operatic voices, and the incongruity sounds ridiculous. Nowadays we don't castrate boys for the theater any more--thank God! In our obsessesion with attaining "historical accuracy," though, we castrate the music instead. This CD set will probably do no more than take up space in my collection.
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A note on today's use of countertenors in castrato roles: primary sources indicate that composer Henry Purcell, a baritone, sang alto in church choral compositions. Falsetto singers were so used in his day. He fathered several children so he was NOT a castrato! He WAS a countertenor. He also composed a keyboard piece called "Sefauchi's Farewell" for a castrato engaged in a London production of an Italian opera. Upon Sefauchi's return to Italy Purcell wrote that music. If operatic castrati and church falsetto singers could have done the same job, wouldn't the audience have noticed? Given English anti-Catholic sentiment back then, some hungry satirist would have surely capitalized on it and lampooned the Italians for the senseless mutilation--as senseless it WOULD be if castrati and falsetto singers sounded the same. The foregoing is admittedly speculative. However, arguments favoring the use of countertenors instead of female altos are probably worse since they don't take the facts into account. Most arguments in any humanities discipline fall short of the rigid standards of evidence required in a court of law. Those of the "historically informed performance" movement are no exception.
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