Handel: Joshua Import
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|1. Joshua: Introduction|
|2. Joshua: Joshua - Chorus - Ye Sons Of Israel|
|3. Joshua: Recit (Joshua, Caleb)|
|4. Joshua: Joshua - Air - O First In Wisdom (Caleb)|
|5. Joshua: Joshua - Recit - Matrons And Virgins (Achsah)|
|6. Joshua: Joshua - Air - Oh! Who Can Tell (Achsah)|
|7. Joshua: Recit (Joshua)|
|8. Joshua: Chorus And Joshua|
|9. Joshua: Joshua - Accompagnato - So long The Memory Shall Last (Joshua)|
|10. Joshua: Joshua - Air - While Kedron's Brook To Jordan's Stream (Joshua)|
See all 27 tracks on this disc
|1. Joshua: Joshua - Recit - Let All The Seed Of Abrah'm (Joshua)|
|2. Joshua: Joshua - Chorus - Almighty Ruler Of The Skies|
|3. Joshua: Joshua - Recit - Joshua, The Men Dispatch'd (Caleb)|
|4. Joshua: Chorus Of The Defeated Israelites|
|5. Joshua: Joshua - Recit - Whence this Dejection? (Joshua)|
|6. Joshua: Joshua - Air And Chorus - With Redoubled Rage (Joshua)|
|7. Joshua: Joshua - Recit - Now Give The Army Breath (Othniel)|
|8. Joshua: Joshua - Air - Heroes When With Glory Burning (Othniel)|
|9. Joshua: Joshua - Recit - Indulgent Heav'n (Achsah)|
|10. Joshua: Joshua - Air - As Cheers The Sun The Tender Flow'r (Achsah)|
See all 29 tracks on this disc
Handel's Old Testament oratorios can be difficult to tell apart--tenor Israelite hero, bass enemy or éminence grise, soprano ingenue, and alto priest or youth. What distinguishes Joshua? Real characters: tenor Joshua, confident to the point of conceit; grizzled old general Caleb, wistfully facing retirement; alto Othniel, an excited young warrior/lover fighting battles to win Caleb's giddy daughter, Achsah. Joshua's highlights are the showpiece arias. James Bowman sails through Othniel's impetuous "Let danger surround me"; Emma Kirkby (one of the best ornamenters in the business) charms and fascinates in Achsah's "Oh, had I Jubal's lyre" and "Hark! 'tis the linnet"; George Ainsley is a Joshua both vigorous and graceful, the chorus and the brass are stunning in "Glory to God" as they bring the walls of Jericho tumbling down. --Matthew Westphal
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The libretto deserves a certain amount of the credit. The Rev Thomas Morell was no great poet, and his verbal expression is more trite than usual here, no doubt because of the pressure he was under to keep pace with the enormous speed Handel was working at in the grip of inspiration. Summarised on paper, the plot of Joshua does not look particularly promising. In musical terms after all one military victory is much like another. It comes across rather like a soccer commentary - the walls of Jericho are brought down, so one-nil to the children of Israel: these become complacent and are repulsed at Ai, so the score is now level: they are rallied by their management and notch up the match-winner at Debir, leading to a hero's welcome not for Joshua but actually for Othniel, in case anyone was noticing by now. However what Morell did possess was a sound instinct for a musical drama. The roller-coaster fortunes of the Israelites were a welcome opportunity to Handel, and the romantic thread of Achsah and Othniel was another. Morell even provides `Hark `tis the linnet' on a blatant pretext, as Robert King says, but Handel was not the man to turn down the chance, and we are all the gainers. It is a story full of contrast and of light and shade, and by either good luck or inspired editing the un-triumphant aria `To Vanity', in which Achsah warns the victorious Israelites against over-confidence, comes just before the change to the second disc.
Even by the very high standards one has come to expect from today's early-music groups, this issue strikes me as absolutely outstanding. It has a solo cast of the tried and the tested, (other than the treble Aidan Oliver in the small part of the Angel), there is an instrumental ensemble of nearly 40, and a chorus of 30 with boy trebles and male altos. Right from the magnificent first chorus one has a sense of absolute confidence and command, and so it stays all the way through to the end. The soloists are consistently fine, and if I single out John Mark Ainsley as Joshua and Emma Kirkby as Achsah for special mention that may be largely because they have the biggest roles, and of course the solitary female role. Kirkby in particular is in sublime voice, but my head is still ringing with the sound of each of them negotiating Handel's coloratura sequences with consummate ease and professionalism. Absolutely everything seems to be right here, and from everyone. The range of expression they have to encompass is particularly wide in Joshua, but they seem to have been born to sing it, and the instrumental work, directed by Robert King, is beyond praise too for tact and sense of style, as well, needless to say, as technical accomplishment. There are three trumpet-players, so I am unable to name the special hero of `Behold! The list'ning sun'.
Robert King himself contributes the commentary, which I read before listening to the music. It is very detailed and enthusiastic and at first I even thought it just a trifle breathless and excitable. As my own level of excitement rose during the performance, I was getting on to the same wavelength myself, and as one superb solo or chorus followed on another I found myself checking back with King to see what he had to say about the piece in question. I suppose I must have read a fair amount about all of the main performers at one time or another, but I would still have welcomed at least a brief note on each of them. What we are offered instead is their photographs, and I must admit that they are a very good-looking and photogenic bunch. The recorded sound is absolutely admirable too.
'Joshua'was one of a quartet of oratorios written consecutively between 1746 & 1748 which has heavily militaristic overtones. Through the years it has been rather neglected in the line-up of Handel Oratorios and unfortunately so, because the quality and excitement that is Handel is contained within it just as in other works.
It contains two unforgettble scenes: the fall of the walls of Jericho and the halting of sun and moon. Here also is the famous march 'See the conquering hero comes' which the Victorians used 'ad nauseam' to open new public works. It occurs in almost exactly the same position in ActIII as the purely orchestral 'Dead Marches' in 'Saul' and 'Samson'.
Handel uses a full complement of instruments, particularly brass and percussion that provide the bombastic and triumphant sound effects for the exciting action of the story. The King's Consort are more than capable of providing these trememdous sounds, and they do!
This is a very fine recording of Handel's 'Joshua'. The New College Choir under the direction of Edward Higginbottom is superb, and is featured frequently throughout the work, as is usual for Handel choruses.
The soloists sing expressively and skillfully protraying for us the exciting story of Joshua. Emma Kirkby's solo 'Oh Had I Jubal's Lyre' is just so excellent as she sings out those exquisite high notes with her clear and pure soprano and executes superfast passages as if they were so easy, and they are not! John Mark Ainsley, in the role of Joshua, is marvelous; his tone quality has such warmth and life!!. And I have always enjoyed the rich Bass voice of Michael George; I marvel at how clear is his diction, for sometimes basses on that very low pitch level 'rumble' and become somwhat indistinct! Now James Bowman, countertenor, playing the part of the young, heroic warrior who ultimately saves the day, sings very expressively with much sound. However, his diction is somewhat difficult to comprehend because of the heavy tunnel-like quality of his voice. Having said this, he is considered by many (not me) to be one of the 'greats' of that genre, so don't take that as a negative comment.
And there is an accompanying booklet with all the words in English, French and German. The boy soprano, who unfortunately has only a brief part (as an angel) is excellent, but he also sings with the New College Choir on the Choruses.
I like this rendition very much; it's a superior group of singers headed by two capable leaders: Robert King and Edward Higginbottom.
The performance recorded here and conducted by Robert King is utterly splendid. John Mark Ainsley is without a doubt one of the finest Handelian tenors in the world, and he sings with beauty and inspiration. Emma Kirkby is simply ravishing - there's no other word for it. She's never sung any better (although she's such an amazingly consistent singer that MUCH of what she's sung would draw the same comment) and this suits her perfectly. Michael George is as ever a thoroughly wonderful bass singing beautifully. James Bowman... what can one say of James Bowman that has not already been said? He is extraordinary - he sings with such an exquisite line and such meticulous and emotion-filled control that one understands exactly why he is considered one of the great countertenors.
Highly recommended - there may be other good recordings of "Joshua", but certainly not a better. It remains my favourite of all the "Joshua" recordings.
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