The Handel revival has come on a long way in the last 50 years, but pleasant things are still coming out into the light. This is an Italian oratorio, written when the master was 23, still learning his trade and making his name in Italy before his final move to England. The very helpful liner note by Anthony Hicks fills in the background: the work was intended as a public Easter Day entertainment. Biblical oratorio was almost a branch of opera, and saved on costumes and other staging expenses. La Resurrezione seems to have scored a major success when first performed, but it has lapsed since and in fact Handel's revisions to the score, presumably representing his final thoughts on it, were discovered as recently as 1960. He never himself revived the work, and I hope it can be suggested without disrespect that it is not hard to see why.
Nearly all the arias show clear signs of what this young master was capable of, but even at 23 he was worldly enough and sufficiently career-minded not to provide anything too deep or too lofty for his patron or his public. The opening section of the overture (or `sonata') sets the tone right away, and would have seemed unsuitably light-hearted for the later audiences for Handel's Sacred Grand Oratorios in London. The characterisation, particularly of Lucifer, is blatantly operatic. Above all, there are no choruses as we have come to know them from Handel's prime. The only thing by that name here is a short ensemble at the end of the first part. When in Rome do what the Romans want.
This recording is of a live performance in 2001, with applause at the start and end of each half, and a small quota of footsteps. I did not notice any unwelcome audience noise, whether it is the audience or the recording technicians we are to thank for that. The orchestra is of recent foundation itself, as if to be in the spirit of what is being performed, and once again the liner is admirably informative about all of them - the Combattimento Consort Amsterdam and their conductor Jan Willem de Vriend, together with the five vocal soloists. Of these the only name I knew for certain was that of Nancy Argenta. She is always an artist I am keen to hear in music of this period, and she is in good company with the other four. Nancy Argenta takes the part of the Angel, which is the first voice that we hear, and I suppose to be conscientious I should say that I thought she was a little too near the microphone, both at the start and later. That, I think, is the only criticism I have of the recording work.
This consort is of course of the `authentic' school of performance, using `period' instruments, although I see that both the organ and the harpsichord are of recent build, the harpsichord being modelled on an instrument made by Ruckers in the 17th century. These days we are spoiled for choice with our `authentic' specialists, and with rare exceptions we can expect a high and consistent standard from them, which is what we get here. The approach adopted is the one that fits with my own conception of the work itself, in other words the religiosity not overdone and a slightly operatic tinge now and again, especially when Lucifer contemplates his return to the abyss, with a fine basso profundo low note. There are no countertenors (dare I offer up thanks for that?), and the three other singers are a tenor as St John the Apostle, a mezzo in the part of Mary Cleophas and a soprano as Mary `Magdalene', so spelt, possibly indicating that the translator was educated at Cambridge. The full text is provided, sensibly in Italian and English only.
Not the greatest Handel maybe, but there is plenty of that elsewhere. This has been a real discovery so far as I am concerned. May I add my own thanks and appreciation to Mrs L Broekema-Clement for making the production possible.