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Saul [Box set, Original recording remastered]

George Frideric Handel Audio CD

Price: CDN$ 37.51 & FREE Shipping. Details
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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic recording of Saul Feb. 3 2008
By Michael Birman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
Saul was Handel's fourth English Oratorio, composed in 1738 when the composer was at the pinnacle of his operatic career with consecutive productions of Ariodante and Alcina at the new Covent Garden. Handel was increasingly aware of how the limited forms of italian opera could not provide free rein to the unfettered expression of his genius: especially after the wildly popular production of John Gay's The Beggar's Opera, performed entirely in english, caused the stock of opera sung in the italian language to plummet in England. Saul premiered 16 January 1739 at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket following extensive revisions of Handel's first draft. There were just six performances during that first run and it appears to have been well received, although the original cast was not strong. Handel wrote the part of David for the famous mezzo-soprano Marchesini (though she never sang it). Instead, a man named Russell sang it, an ordinary tenor who sang the part transposed an octave lower than written. Likewise, the Witch of Endor was sung by a tenor voice, Handel following the convention of his time. The undistinguished cast hampered Saul, which closed after six performances, before being revived a further five times in London between 1740 and 1754. It was also performed in Dublin in 1742.

John Eliot Gardiner returns the part of David to a counter-tenor: Derek Lee Ragin, with tenor John Mark Ainsley singing Jonathan and soprano Lynne Dawson performing Michal. Bass Alastair Miles sings Saul. The entire cast is excellent. This is a recording made from a live performance at the Stadthalle in Gottingen Germany in June 1989. Gardiner's superb recording of Handel's Solomon was made around the same time. His conducting is lithe and swift, emphasizing pristine vocal timbres and clean, sparkling orchestral sonorities. The English Baroque Soloists play beautifully and the Monteverdi Choir sound resplendant, singing with an harmonic richness that belies their relatively small number. The original 1739 performing version of Saul is used, but includes some later additions. This is a superb recording, remastered for Philip's The Originals Legendary Recordings series. The sound is warm and intimate, with the orchestra especially clear and forward sounding. Voices are round and supple, with a nice illusion of space surrounding them. This is certainly a recording worthy of any Baroque collection. Strongly recommended.

Mike Birman
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Handel's Great "Saul" Magnificently Rendered Aug. 20 2009
By Ray - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Today's listener is probably most familiar with Handel's works through such pieces as The Messiah, the Water Music, and the Royal Fireworks Music, but Handel actually focused the greatest part of his life composing oratorios, the Messiah being perhaps the most famous example. Much less known to today's listeners is Handel's magnificent orchestral work, including the immense Concerto Grossi opus 3 and 6 and the dimunutive Concerti a due cori, but these are true gems of composition worthy of exploration by anyone interested in Baroque music.

But back to the oratorios. Handel wrote a multitude of these while living in England ("Jeptha," "Solomon," "Judas Macabbaeus," "Israel in Egypt," etc.), and their acceptance by the British public during that time made Handel a national hero, certainly one of the most popular and well loved persons in Britain at the time. A sampling of these oratorios, though written in a manner to which our modern music tuned ears are not accustomed, quickly explains why Handel achieved such notoriety: these works exhibit immense beauty, powerfully emotive sound, and often sublime pathos. It's not hard to understand why Beethoven himself regarded Handel as the greatest composer with whom he was acquainted, lavishing him with the ultimate compliment that Handel could take a small handful of instruments and turn them into something that appeared much larger and complex.

Handel's "Saul" is perhaps far less explored than the most popular of his oratorios, but it is a worthy exploration. For anyone not familiar with the story, the libretto covers King Saul's interactions with David as David emerges as a well loved figure in the kingdom, and when the story is understood, we can sit back and watch Handel take the theme and weave it into a musical masterpiece. And this he surely does, and we are easily convinced of this before the work is half finished, being treated early on in the work to blasts of praise, shows of anger and jealously, exultations of triumph, and quiet expressions of sorrow and unease. How can Handel handle this in so short a time period? It seems impossible, but he pulls it off, and the story continues to become more enriched and complicated as we move through the work.

This particular recording of the Saul by Gardiner and the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir certainly ranks among the best of the various available recordings. As with nearly all Gardiner productions, the sound is superb, with outstanding performance by both the choir and orchestra, all excellently captured with state of the art recording equipment (in the 1970's, all in analogue, but expertly converted to digital). There is no harshness in the sound, and the sonics are simply outstanding, both with solo and group movements. It's hard to find any area of the recording or the performance to complain about.

I can easily recommend this recording to any Handel, Baroque, or classical enthusiast. I have greatly enjoyed the work, and there are pieces within the work that stand out as simply superb examples of musical composition, the diamonds amongst the gold of the work. Philips has reissued this recording (along with many of Gardiner's other works), making the cost much more affordable than ever before. This is a five star performance and a five star recording. Highly recommended.

Other Gardiner Recordings of Handel's Oratorios:
- Handel - Solomon / Watkinson, Argenta, Hendricks, Rolfe Johnson, EBS, Monteverdi Choir, Gardiner
- Händel: Messiah
- Händel: Israel in Egypt, etc / John Eliot Gardiner
- Händel: Alexander's Feast
5.0 out of 5 stars A fine recording of a great work Jan. 5 2014
By Dr. J. J. Kregarman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
Saul is an excellent Handel oratorio with high drama and excellent music. It's easy to listen to again and again. This is a fine recording, and at its low price worthy of any and all's attention. It did not disappoint. Text and fine notes included.

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