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Handel - Semele / Joshua, Summers, Croft, EOC, Curnyn Box set

4 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Performer: Sherratt; Pearson; Summers
  • Composer: Congreve; Handel;
  • Audio CD (Dec 4 2007)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 3
  • Format: Box set
  • Label: Chaconne (Chandos)
  • ASIN: B000WZ7HWW
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #98,396 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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Disc: 1
1. No.1 Ouverture
2. Allegro - Adagio -
3. Gavotte
4. No.2 Cadmus: 'Behold! Auspicious Flashes Rise!'
5. No.3 Chorus: 'Lucky Omens Bless Our Rites'
6. No.4 Cadmus: 'Daughter, Obey'
See all 25 tracks on this disc
Disc: 2
1. No.24 Sinfonia - Presto
2. No.25 Juno: 'Iris, Impatient Of Thy Stay'
3. No.26 Iris: 'There, From Mortal Cares Retiring'
4. No.27 Juno: 'No More -- I'll Hear No More'
5. No.28 Juno: 'Hence, Iris, Hence Away'
6. No.30 Semele: 'O Sleep, Why Dost Thou Leave Me?'
See all 20 tracks on this disc
Disc: 3
1. No.45 [Sinfonia] Larghetto E Piano Per Tutto
2. No.46 Juno: 'Somnus, Awake'
3. No.47 Somnus: 'Leave Me, Loathsome Light'
4. No.48 Iris: 'Dull God, Canst Thou Attend the Water's Fall'
5. No.49 Somnus: 'More Sweet Is That Name'
6. No.50 Juno: 'My Will Obey'
See all 32 tracks on this disc

Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Audio CD
I was very impressed by this performance. I prefer it over the DG recording with Kathleen Battle, Samuel Ramey & Michael Chance (to name but a few) with the ECO conducted by John Nelson. Highly recommended by one who collects "original instrument" performances of the Handel operas and oratorios.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
For an oratorio (really an opera) filled with such great music, Semele hasn't had an illustrious recording history. John Eliot Gardiner recorded a period performance back in the 1980's (with substantial cuts), and John Nelson recorded it with Kathleen Battle in the title role. I confess I've never been a Battle fan - her voice has too much of a Tinkerbell quality for my liking.
This recording has much to recommend it. Rosemary Joshua is technically excellent and conveys the title character's silliness and vanity without any of Battle's shrillness (although I must say that I think the Canadian soprano Jane Archibald, who I heard sing this role in a 2012 COC production, is even better). Richard Croft is an excellent Handelian and as Jupiter he doesn't disappoint here, although I think the role at time sits a tad low for him. The rest of the cast is fine, although I confess Hillary Summers' contralto sounds somewhat odd, almost like a counter-tenor to my ears. Christian Curnyn and the Early Opera Company make for a fine orchestra and the recorded sound is very good.
In short, this is probably the best version of Semele currently available. It's certainly very good, but it doesn't quite reach the level of an all-time great Handel recording, such as Gardiner's "Jephtha" or Christie's "Alcina." A solid buy, nonetheless.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9fa14a74) out of 5 stars 9 reviews
24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9fa1b5e8) out of 5 stars Endless Pleasure . . . Feb. 6 2008
By G P Padillo - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
First I must disagree with the review offering only two stars. In these matters it becomes something of a matter of personal taste. Reviews have been split on this recording, but a the bulk of major and respectable journals (i.e,., Gramophone, The Guardian, The Times (London), Music and Vision) and a number of others have praised this recording, some bestowing awards upon it - while several other journals of equal repute, have found some flaws. Again, it's a matter of personal taste.

I was surprised to happen upon this fairly recent recording of Semele which I'd
been unaware of entirely up until a few weeks ago. I've been listening to it a
great deal this past week and couldn't be more pleased with this set, and for a
number of good reasons. In addition to being virtually note complete, it is also
the first complete original instrument recording to make it into the market. Oh,
and it's also beautifully performed.

If a little less ripe of voice than I prefer, Rosemary Joshua nonetheless offers a
ravishingly sung, and completely inhabited take on the role, handling all of the
difficulties head on, with pristine coloratura and gleaming tone. Semele's first
great aria, "The morning lark . . . " is sung about as perfectly as one could
want. Some of the reviews have stated Joshua has sacrificed drama for
musical clarity but I wouldn't agree with that at all. To see what I mean,
listen to "O sleep why dost thou leave me," to hear a nearly perfect example
of fusion between emotion, musical intelligence and ability.

Richard Croft has been my favorite Jupiter (and favorite singers) for the better
part of two decades and how thrilling it is to finally have him commit the role
to disc. Croft manages to combine sensuality, musical accuracy, and that
wonderful so-necessary Handelian element "the God as Human" (or is it the
other way around?) that seems to elude many singers in this part. In his first
aria Handel has given the tenor a difficult, rather odd rhythm between singer
and accompaniment, and Croft gets it just right,. The fiendishly (almost
ridiculously) difficult "I must with speed amuse her" is sung with Croft's usual
virtuosity and tossed off with vocal athleticism, alacrity, abandon and
accuracy, his facility for rapid coloratura never ceasing to thrill me.

"Where `er you walk" is on different footing, finding Croft softening even
further his tone, while retaining plenty of gleam. He never oversells the
emotion and resists any urge to move this into "schmaltz" or deliver it in an
overly churchy manner. It is one of Handel's greatest love songs and comes
across best when sung as one. Croft's delivery here is exquisite his
ornamentation in the da capo, a lesson in elegance. (Note: At a performance
of Semele in the mid 1990's, Mr. Croft as Jupiter moved through a set that
morphed into a stage sized, renaissance artist's living vision of a glade while
singing with such tenderness the house swooned. Upon the air's conclusion
the house (a typically noisy one) was rapt in silence before a thunderous
applause was unleashed. My friend attending with me (hearing Croft for the
first time) whispered "That was the most beautiful thing I have ever heard." I

Hilary Summers does double duty here as Ino and Juno and while initially I
found her a mite hooty (in the old-fashioned countertenor sort of way) she
warms up nicely and the duality of the characters is brilliantly brought to life.

Also doubling up is Brindley Sherratt who sings Somnus and Cadmus - who
sounds like he's having a ball doing both

Stephen Wallace and Gail Pearson round out the cast in impressive turns.
The chorus is a delight - vivid and lively in some of the briefest choruses ever
penned, and always contributing to the forward pacing of the tale at hand.

Christian Curnyn leads the Grange Park Early Opera Orchestra (original
instruments) and chorus in this first complete release of an original instrument
performance. It is a lovely, reading with Curnyn lavishing attention on every
musical detail, infusing each bar with vigor and dramatic purpose. The many
tender moments come across as delicately as gauze yet he achieves also a
thrilling, theatrical and musically visceral quality in the works' more dramatic
(and sometimes violent) moments. What is best about this set is how it
presents the work complete (minus a few items excised by Handel himself) and
has all the feel of a living, breathing drama taking place in your living room (or
car if you prefer). For several of us, at least I believe this set will offer endless
pleasure . . . (sorry!)

14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9fa1b858) out of 5 stars Sixth recording of this opera/secular drama- Jan. 12 2008
By L.T.N - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This Semele is by the same group that did such a great job with Partenope a couple of years ago (Early Opera Company, conductor Christian Curnyn, soprano Rosemary Joshua, contralto Hilary Summers). Joshua also sang Angelica in Orlando with Les Arts Florissants, and was wonderful in the Venus & Adonis of John Blow from several years ago. I have a special fondness for anything that Norma Burrowes sang, and the old Erato recording by Gardiner and Burrowes as the heroine won't be replaced by this new version. Nevertheless, I'm glad to have this and its probably going to be welcomed by all reviewers, and by Handelians, the hardcore of which don't mind adding to their collections with multiple recordings of the same works. I like this set a lot, Joshua's voice reminds me of Sylvia McNair with her dark tone, and I hope this Early Opera Company considers a couple of other Handel operas that are due for another recording: Amadigi da Gaula & Berenice. Maybe Silla or the pastiche Alessandro ? Highly recommended for Baroque fans and a must-have for Handel lovers.
10 of 14 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9fa1ba98) out of 5 stars a voice teacher and early music fan March 3 2008
By George Peabody - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This oratorio was written at the peak of Handel's powers. It is crammed with his most sparkling music: spectacular orchestral numbers and powerful choruses combine with heart-stopping arias.

Expanding a libretto by William Congreve, Handel's Semele tells of the beautiful mortal, whose short but glorious love affair with Jupiter, King of the Gods, comes to a terrifying end in consequence of both her own vanity and the machinations of Jupiter's instensely jealous wife Juno.

Rosemary Joshua, who sings 'Semele', though rending her music with efficiency and some finesse, does not display the sparkle and emotional depth one should hear in this role. Although the character of 'Semele' is complex for she experiences varying degrees of desperation, yearning, joy and fear throughout the oratorio, the singer must comply. For example her delivery of the aria 'Myself I shall adore.' which should be performed in a zesty and egocentric manner does not come across to the listener. It does not convey the fact that Semele is in love with her own image.

However, there is more character in the performance from the rest of the cast with very fine contributions from Stephen Wallace (countertenor) who plays 'Athamas' and Brindley Sherratt who sings the roles of Cadmus and Somnus (bass). Hillary Summers, as Ino and Juno, has a voice with a somewhat peculiar and annoying quality. In fact, it reminds me of a male falsetto rather than a true contralto, and this makes for disconcerting listening. Richard Croft as Jupiter is adequate, but his voice, while having a pleasing sound in the lower range, is thinner higher up. His famous solo 'Where'er You Walk' was really not memorable.

The chorus is excellent, and it is the only time I felt any real involvement. Curnyn does not seem to move the music forward, as say. a Gardiner or McCreesh might do.

It behooves me to mention a truly marvelous award-winning recording (1990) by John Nelson and a cast of star-studded singers: Kathleen Battle (Semele); Marilyn Horne (Juno & Ino); Samuel Ramey (Cadmus & Somnus); Michael Chance (Athamas); John Aler (Jupiter); Neil Mackie (Apollo);Sylvia McNair (Isis). A SUPERB PRODUCTION IN EVERY WAY!!

I must add that in the interest of 'fairness' I probably would not have been as critical of this performance if I hadn't been listening for years to the John Nelson recording.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9fa1bdf8) out of 5 stars My New Favorite March 12 2008
By Virginia Opera Fan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
This new Semele bests the available competition in two areas in particular - the excellence of Rosemary Joshua's voicing of the title role and the use of Handel's complete 1744 text. John Eliot Gardiner's Erato effort of 25 years ago was significantly cut (as was Somary's old Vanguard version). Nelson, on DG employs a more complete text, but with a couple of exceptions, is bested by the new Chandos offering.

As mentioned earlier, Joshua is a very fine Semele. Of the competitors, Norma Burrowes is too much the nymphet and Kathleen Battle too much the diva. Joshua's lovely tone and good technique (a few sketchy trills aside) make the character very appealing. Hilary Summers, also in very good voice is a scheming Juno who tears into the music with relish. As Ino, a doubling that is authentically Handelian, she demonstrates her chops as a vocal actress by offering a portrait of Semele's lovestruck sister that is completely different from the goddess. She does not efface memories of the wonderful Marilyn Horne's work in the competing DG set, but this is a very fine piece of singing.

Richard Croft brings a dark tone to the role of Jupiter and sings with good coloratura technique. His singing is sensitive to the text. Listen, for example, to his touching utterances of regret in "Tis past recall; she must a victim fall." Brindley Sherrat is a sturdy voiced Cadmus and doubles as an appropriately somnolent Somnus.

I don't care much for Stephen Wallace's pallid countertenor as Athamus. Michael Chance is much better for Nelson. The chorus sings lustily and the period instrument orchestra is colorful and technically adept. After all these years of hearing Handel on period instruments, Nelson's admittedly excellent modern band is missing the last measure of color. Conductor Curnyn paces the performance very nicely. He also allows the crashing tympani to cut loose when appropriate, adding to the fun of what Charles Jennens, Handel's Messiah librettist, dismissed as a "baudy opera".
11 of 17 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9fa1d030) out of 5 stars DISAPPOINTING PERFORMANCE OF A MASTERPIECE Feb. 2 2008
By MW - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Let me say first that Rosemary Joshua is SUPERB as Semele. However, the supporting cast, with the exceptions of Gail Pearson (as Iris) and possibly Stephen Wallace (as Athamas), are not worthy of her. Brindley Sherrat is quite acceptable as Cadmus, but his delivery is too hard-edged and forceful for the role of Somnus, the god of sleep.

Richard Croft clearly has difficulty with the role of Jupiter - his coloratura is problematic in places and where it is good the quality of his voice suffers. I even noticed pitching problems in at least one place on Where'er you walk; he doesn't sing that aria, or any of the others, with the ease or pleasantness of Anthony Rolfe-Johnson or Paul Agnew. He is not much better on the live recording I own of Minkowski's (which has Annick Massis in the title role). I am not saying he is terrible, but Jupiter really needs to be as good as Semele - and, simply put, here he is not.

I have several recordings of this opera - by conductors Lewis, Somary, Gardiner, Walker, Stern, Nelson (1985 & 1990) and Minkowski. Having a complete recording as opposed to one with cuts is really only a big plus if a sense of the dramatic whole is attained and maintained. I think Minkowski attained it in his complete performance, but Curnyn does not. The may be in due in part to Curnyn's conducting, but I think much of the responsibility lies also with the soloists. Perhaps they might have achieved something better under different circumstances, whatever they were - I don't know. Whatever the reasons, this recording does not work as a dramatic whole the way that it should.

So, to return to the casting, Stephen Wallace's voice is rather on the monotonous side, although at least it is on the pleasant side. But I think that Athamas has one too many arias in any case. A more serious problem on this recording is the casting and performance of Hilary Summers. She is unacceptable as Juno, and barely adequate as Ino (although, in all seriousness, she might make an interesting Athamas). She does not achieve the incisiveness or vigour required for the role Juno. Maybe if someone else had sung Juno, she would have come off better as Ino - but that is quite a big "maybe".

Gardiner's recording, had it been more complete and perhaps in places better-recorded might not nowadays leave us wanting more - and I still return to it because it had such an excellent cast. And, like Stern's and Minkowski's (neither of which are without their problems) uses one singer per role, which is preferable by far to the doubling of roles. The doubling of Cadmus and Somnus is not ideal, but (except perhaps on Walker's recording, where it seems to work) the doubling of Ino and Juno strikes me as a grave mistake.

If you can get it, buy it, listen to it and, if you like it, post a review. There is no denying that the opera-oratorio Semele is a fabulous composition, a great drama - but this performance is incohesive. And if I revise my opinion somewhat, I will regardless be looking out and praying for a new recording: perhaps one by William Christie or, dare I say it, Nikolaus Harnoncourt!