This superb performance has been reissued in The Originals series: Jephtha. Amazon makes the new edition unnecessarily difficult to find, by misspelling the name ("Jeptha"), but find it you must if you care about Handel!
Is this Handel's greatest oratorio? That might be an idle question. What we do know is that Jephtha is Handel's last oratorio, and indeed the last of his major works. Aging Handel at this point seems to have submitted to Alexander Pope's philosophy of fatalism. From the last scene (Scene 4) of the second act, following Jephtha's accompagnato, the chorus ends with the final verdict: "Whatever is, is right." Within a few minutes, Handel allows the music to modulate endlessly to create a strikingly unsettling effect. This is, for me, one of the highlights showing Handel's genius at its pinnacle.(*1)
This performance was recorded live from 1988 Internationale Händel-Festspiele Göttingen. It does this masterpiece great justice. Gardiner and his forces (English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir) imbue intensity and urgency into every measure of the music, without losing the textual clarity whenever called for. The soloist line-up is excellent, without any weak link and with much to admire.(*2) The recorded sound is vivid and clear with very good dynamic range, only very occasionally sounding a tiny bit harsh.
The booklet includes the complete sung-text in English and in German translation. Three essays by Winton Dean, Jean-Francois Labie and Lothar Hoffmann-Erbrecht in English, French and German respectively. My French and German are not adequate, but the notes by renowned Handel expert Winton Dean is a pleasure to read as always.
Very highly recommended.
(*1) This seems quite rare in Handel's music. -- Expert's comment/correction is greatly appreciated.
(*2) Michael Chance (Hamor), Lynn Dawson (Iphis) and Anne Sofie von Otter (Storgé) are clearly the stars, but Nigel Robson's Jephtha, Stephen Varcoe's Zebul and Ruth Holton's Angel are good too.