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H─NDEL JEPHTA (GA) [Box set]

J.U./OELZE,C./CREED,U. AINSLEY Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NEMESIS NEGATED July 18 2004
Format:Audio CD
Whatever economic dark night the classical music industry is currently going through, one result has been an absolutely superb crop of early music records. England has particularly distinguished itself, but here is a set of an English language masterpiece from Berlin that stands comparison with the best. The version of Handel's great Jephtha that I have lived with for many years is by Marriner and the Academy of St Martin's. I'm not seeing it in the current catalogues, but what I have observed is two other versions receiving highly favourable notices. Anyone with world enough and time may want to obtain or at least hear these. For now I only wish to signal that there is another serious contender in the lists.
The recorded sound on this set is one I'm particularly comfortable with. That may be both a good and a not-so-good thing in one sense. The biblical story of Jephtha (Judges XI) is not a comfortable one in the least, and I have not so far got from this account quite the acute sense of mounting tension, panic and despair that Marriner conveys. In the scripture Jephtha attempts to make a deal of the most appalling insolence and presumptiousness with the frightful Jehovah of the old testament. Handel's librettist, the Rev Morell, perhaps nervous at even handling this incident, tries in various ways to make placatory gestures towards the Almighty, but I remain convinced that Handel, who knew his scripture, basically kept the biblical version in mind. Faust himself hardly made a more dreadful bargain, but the story also recalls the sacrifice of Iphigenia before the attack on Troy.
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top-ranking choice for Handel's oratorio swansong Jan. 28 2007
By Nicholas A. Deutsch - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Handel's last four English oratorios are among his finest works: SOLOMON with its spacious pageantry, SUSANNA's curious yet effective hybrid of moral drama and English "village opera," the profoundly personal spiritual drama of THEODORA, and the intimate family tragedy - opening out onto deep philosophical vistas - of JEPHTHA... each one with its distinct atmosphere. Of these, JEPHTHA may be the most flawed in some of its details (notably the controversial ending), but each time one returns to it its imperfections matter less and less. It is one of the essential Handel works, and one of his most moving.

This 1994 studio recording ranks at the top of my personal list, along with John Eliot Gardiner's live version on Philips. Superbly played, sung and conducted, with a well-nigh ideal cast of soloists, it can be recommended without reservations. One consumer tip, however: it has been reissued on Brilliant Classics (with complete English text and program note) at a considerably lower price - worth seeking out.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delectable May 18 2007
By Leslie Richford - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759): Jephtha, HWV 70. Libretto by Thomas Morell. Performed by: John Mark Ainsley, tenor (Jephtha); Michael George, bass (Zebul); Catherine Denley, mezzosoprano (Storgè); Christiane Oelze, soprano (Iphis); Axel Köhler, countertenor (Hamor); Julia Gooding, soprano (angel); RIAS Chamber Choir, Berlin; Academy for Ancient Music, Berlin, directed by Marcus Creed. Recorded in June 1992 at the Church of the Good News in Berlin-Karlshorst. Published in 1994 as Berlin Classics BC 1057-2. (This is the edition I have, but there is also a budget priced reissue available from the Dutch label Brilliant Classics). Total time: 2 hrs 40 mins.

The Bible is very candid about its heroes, letting us see their faults and sins just as clearly as their great deeds of faith. In this respect, the book of Judges is typical: its heroes (Abimelech, Gideon, Jephtha, Samson) are all very fallible, in fact quite the opposite of what one might expect. This was not always understood by our Christian forefathers, who, sometimes over-pious, tended to gloss over the sins of these Jewish men of faith. Jephtha's vow to sacrifice the first thing (or person) who met him when he returned victoriously from battle against the Ammonites, Israel's oppressors, was definitely not praiseworthy but a most unwise and rash act, made so much the worse by the fact that he insisted on performing it when it turned out that it was his daughter who met him first (as he might have anticipated). His cruel act brought not only death and distress on those near and dear to him but also cast the worst of aspersions on the God he professed to serve, making him seem brutal and over-stern instead of the loving and forgiving God he had revealed himself to be. It seems that this was lost to view in the centuries following the Reformation. Not only the humanist Buchanan, on whose 16th century work Morell based his libretto, but also the 17th century Puritan commentator Rogers watered down the Judges story, making Jephtha's daughter become the equivalent of a nun for the rest of her life instead of being sacrificed. Morell, and Handel, were men of their age and adopted this version of the story for Handel's last oratorio (first performance 1752), bringing in an angel in Act 3 to sort out the problems. This makes the story-line rather unsatisfactory from a modern standpoint, but enables Handel to follow on from his "How dark, O Lord" at the end of Act 2 to the usual bright Hallelujah-type ending with trumpets and timpani. There is no doubt an autobiographical element here as Handel himself was going blind when he wrote the autograph, and the close of Act 2 can be seen as his personal struggle with ill-health and the will of God: "Whatever is, is right" is not meant as a kind of deistic confession but as submission to the all-wise will of God.

The performance of the oratorio by Marcus Creed and his team is in many ways ideal. The strings of the Berlin Academy for Ancient Music are pulsing with life and vitality right from the start, and the RIAS Chamber Choir was at its peak at this time, filling each chorus with just the right amount of energy and sentiment. The soloists were all well-known English and German experts in the field of historic performance and oratorio, and there was none I could fault. Axel Köhler was not perhaps quite in the Andreas Scholl category as a countertenor, but his performance here is quite delightful, making me think that he has been underrated. He and Christiane Oelze, the other German here, do an amazingly good job at pronouncing the English text, there is really no difference to be heard between them and the British singers involved. John Mark Ainsley and Michael George are their usual brilliant selves, Catherine Denley's dark mezzo is ideal for Jephtha's worried wife, and Julia Gooding's brief appearance as the angel is quite delectable. I suspect that if this recording had appeared on one of the major international labels, it would have been hailed as a great achievement and given prizes; as it is, it is a highly entertaining and worthwhile recording which I can recommend to anyone interested in Handel, in mid-18th century oratorio or even in baroque opera (Handel remained an opera composer all his life, and the series of recitatives and arias in "Jephtha" smacks of his earlier operas all the way through).
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars NEMESIS NEGATED July 18 2004
By DAVID BRYSON - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Whatever economic dark night the classical music industry is currently going through, one result has been an absolutely superb crop of early music records. England has particularly distinguished itself, but here is a set of an English language masterpiece from Berlin that stands comparison with the best. The version of Handel's great Jephtha that I have lived with for many years is by Marriner and the Academy of St Martin's. I'm not seeing it in the current catalogues, but what I have observed is two other versions receiving highly favourable notices. Anyone with world enough and time may want to obtain or at least hear these. For now I only wish to signal that there is another serious contender in the lists.

The recorded sound on this set is one I'm particularly comfortable with. That may be both a good and a not-so-good thing in one sense. The biblical story of Jephtha (Judges XI) is not a comfortable one in the least, and I have not so far got from this account quite the acute sense of mounting tension, panic and despair that Marriner conveys. In the scripture Jephtha attempts to make a deal of the most appalling insolence and presumptuousness with the frightful Jehovah of the old testament. Handel's librettist, the Rev Morell, perhaps nervous at even handling this incident, tries in various ways to make placatory gestures towards the Almighty, but I remain convinced that Handel, who knew his scripture, basically kept the biblical version in mind. Faust himself hardly made a more dreadful bargain, but the story also recalls the sacrifice of Iphigenia before the attack on Troy. Morell, a Greek scholar himself, names Jephtha's daughter Iphis, and I suppose he had some right to play his own variation on the name as the most famous version of that story, in book I of Lucretius, substitutes Iphigenia's sister Iphianassa for no reason that I ever knew considering both names fit the metre.

It is a kind of biblical story that Handel was uniquely suited to. Jephtha is his last oratorio and he was struggling with advancing blindness during its composition. Music-lovers familiar with Messiah but not with Handel's other oratorios would be mistaken in my view to think that a certain unevenness in Messiah, the result of tearing haste, is characteristic. Jephtha, like Samson or Theodora, is thoroughly consistent in quality and workmanship. It contains some famous high spots around the mark of the end of act II and the start of act III. Jephtha's accompagnato `Deeper and deeper still' and the following chorus `How dark o Lord' are well known or at least get a lot of conventional mention, as does the celestial aria `Waft her angels', very likely because the more traditional commentators did not know the other numbers and indeed possibly not even these. The story develops powerfully, and Morell deserves some of the credit for that. He dilutes the crassness and hubris of Jephtha's behaviour, but Handel takes advantage of this to give light and shade to the action while focussing strongly on the horrific and terrifying mess that Jephtha has got himself into. It did not do to send London audiences home gloomy. Handel had probably fallen into that trap with his previous oratorio, his beloved Theodora, a gripping and convoluted tale of a priggish stand on principle, brutal retaliation, desperate and ingenious attempts to retrieve the situation, the worst possible outcome and a prevalent sense of futility. Theodora had been a box-office disaster, Morell had been the librettist of that too, and he provided a thoroughly 18th-century happy ending for Jephtha, involving not death but a commuted sentence of virginity for Iphis. At this stage my sense of dramatic action switches off, as I believe Handel's did. It is all very successfully done in my opinion, but a stylised epilogue rather than a real part of the action. Indeed it comes as something of a relief. The action proper has real development and concentration and the earlier numbers are a jewel-box. I believe that Handel has also given some measure of immortality to one Habermann by filching material from his contemporary masses for the choruses, providing the catalyst for that unique choral writing, unequalled in the entire history of the art.

With today's early music groups one becomes repetitious in saying that they perform more or less faultlessly. I don't know the nationality of the members of the chorus, but their English elocution is magnificent, and while it was fairly obvious that the Storge is not English I reflected that her pronunciation was a great deal better than the composer's from all accounts. The liner-note tells us nothing at all about the performers, and even in the era of search-engines I find that a little bit of a hardship. The booklet is in English only, so I'm all right, but what is quite startlingly good is the essay by Donald Teeters, a model of intelligence, independent thought and good sense.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Halleluah. Amen. Dec 4 2009
By Lorenzo Moog - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
The last of Handel's oratorios is presented in this 3 CD set (with the excellent observations of Donald Teeters) by Akademie Fur Alte Music; Berlin with the RIAS Kammerchor and a fine cast of singers. John Mark Ainsley sings the title role of Jephtha beautifully in an excellent tenor with a great mid-range and fine dramatic quality. Christine Oelze as Jephtha's daughter Iphis turns in a wonderful performance in a very clean & unencumbered soprano with effortless reach. She's delightful. The entire cast gives an admirable performance with beautifully balanced singing. The voices are all of a piece, wonderfully cast and well supported by the fine chorus and orchestra. Marcus Creed conducts the orchestra with finesse. There are some sleepy moments but overall the music is exquisite and has a spareness that I find interesting. The more I hear it the more I like it. Of particular delight are Jephtha's "His mighty arm", "Deeper and deeper" and "Waft her angels" and Iphis' "Farewell thee limpid springs" and the Chorus' "How dark, O Lord are thy decrees" and the closing "Ye house of Gilead". So with that final "Halleluah. Amen." Handel's opera and oratorio composing came to an end. Handel was having severe eye difficulties as he wrote "Jephtha" and shortly after its completion, and two botched eye surgeries, he became blind. He attended many performances of this oratorio and kept an active creative life in spite of his blindness and one wonders that he didn't find comfort in the line from the great Chorus "How dark O lord, are thy decrees"......... "whatever is, is right". If Handel interests you this is a treasure. Highly recommended.
5.0 out of 5 stars And the applause continues... March 30 2013
By cooksinger - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
I have been an RIAS Kammerchor fan for a long time. I just heard/saw them on an archived performance with Simon Rattle in the Berlin Phil's Digital Concert Hall in an all Purcell program. They were jaw-dropping good!

I found these discs in a half price shop. I cant understand why someone would have shed them. The performance and recording is top notch. If you need "names", go for the other discs available, but you cant go wrong here. AAM Berlin players are superb, the clarity of the recording is amazing, the soloists are marvelous. Marcus Creed is a master.

I add my 5 stars and my hearty applause to the other reviews! A real find!
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