1988 GOTTINGEN HANDEL FESTIVAL LIVE RECORDING MAKES FOR DELIGHTFULLY EXCITING DRAMA!
John Eliot Gardiner's 1988 record, after all these many years, remains the pre-eminent rcording with his well-chosen soloists, great singers all: Nigel Robson, Anne Sofie von Otter, Michael Chance, Stephen Varcoe and Lynne Dawson. Gardiner is an interventionist conductor, very responsive to the needs of the drama. His dramatic reading of the work helps his soloists give far more dramatically intense readings. It helps that Robson in the title role has a voice which can be steely and heroic and he uses this to great effect - his performance of 'Open thy marble jaws, O tomb' is instructive, moving and dramatically credible. Gardiner brings out the work's essential genius.
The plot of Jeptha is based on Chapter 11 of the book of Judges in the bible and Handel has chosen well, for the story is highly dramatic and exciting throughout: Jeptha had been disinherited by his half-brothers, but eventually becomes a great warrior, so when the Israelites are attacked by the Ammonites, Zebul, one of his half-brothers begs him to return and defeat the Ammonites. Jeptha agrees to do so providing that he would then be their leader. Before the battle he agrees to sacrifice to God the first person that greets him upon returning home; unfortunately it is his daughter Iphis, who therefore becomes the sacrifice.
AND IT IS AT THIS POINT IN THE DRAMA that we hear one of Handel's most dramatic scenes in all of his oratorios. Three angry voices (Mother, fiance and half-brother) all musically attack Jeptha who responds with eager and matching anger and thus we have a truly exciting and wonderfully emotional quartet of four great voices: Van Otter, Chance, Varcoe and Robson. Unsurpassable musical drama!
Handel does change the biblical ending and has God sending an angel to tell Iphis that she is not to die, but remain a virgin her whole life, which of course is just wonderful news for her fiance.
This recording in one of Gardiner's masterpieces. The singers display the drama with virtuosity and much emotion. There are so many highly dramatic situations in this story for Handel to display his many creative abilities both chorally and instrumentally. Michael Chance is stunning in the role of Hamor (fiance). His arias come forth as if by magic with note after beautiful note; Van Otter(Mother) has never sounded better; Robson (tenor) is outstanding in the role of Jeptha as is Varcoe (bass) in the role of Zebul. Iphis played by Lynne Dawson is superb. The Monteverdi Choir never disappoints, and gave me thrills and chills as I listened to their commentary on the story as it progresses and it is indeed a plus that Handel has included many lush and exciting choruses in his final Oratorio.
Jeptha was Handel's farewell to the Oratorio, and his last important work. But his legacy is sufficient to keep us entertained for our lifetime.
The liner notes are ample and include the complete text; all of this is in English, German, French and Italian. HAPPY LISTENING!!!!