- Audio CD (Oct. 25 1990)
- Number of Discs: 2
- Format: Import
- Label: Universal Music Group
- ASIN: B00000E37W
- In-Print Editions: Audio CD
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
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|1. Act One, Scene 1: Sinf - The Academy Of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood|
|2. Act One, Scene 1: Aria: Blooming Virgins, Spotless Train - Emma Kirkby|
|3. Act One, Scene 1: Chor: The Rising World Jehovah Crown'd - Chor Of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom|
|4. Act One, Scene 1: Solo & Chor: Tyrants Would In Impious Throngs - Emma Kirkby/Chor Of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom|
|5. Act One, Scene 1: Recitative: When He Is In His Wrath Reveal'd - David Thomas|
|6. Act One, Scene 2: Recitative: Your Sacred Songs Awhile Forbear - James Bowman|
|7. Act One, Scene 3: Recitative: What Scenes Of Horror Round Me Rise! - Joan Sutherland|
|8. Act One, Scene 3: Chor: The Gods, Who Chosen Blessings Shed - Chor Of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom|
|9. Act One, Scene 3: Chor: Cheer Her, O Baal - Chor Of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom|
|10. Act One, Scene 3: Aria: Gentle Airs, Melodious Strains! - Anthony Rolfe Johnson|
See all 14 tracks on this disc
|1. Act Two, Scene 1: Chor: The Mighty Pow'r - Chor Of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom|
|2. Act Two, Scene 1: Aria: Through The Land So Lovely Blooming - Emma Kirkby|
|3. Act Two, Scene 1: Aria: Ah Canst Thou But Prove Me!/Scene 2: Recitative: Confusion To My Thoughts! - David Thomas/Joan Sutherland|
|4. Act Two, Scene 2: Aria: Will God, Whose Mercies Ever Flow - Aled Jones|
|5. Act Two, Scene 2: Aria: My Vengeance Awakes Me - Joan Sutherland|
|6. Act Two, Scene 2: Duet: My Spirits Fail, I Faint, I Die!/Scene 3: Recitative: Dear Josabeth - Emma Kirkby/Aled Jones/James Bowman|
|7. Act Two, Scene 3: Duet: Cease Thy Anguish, Smile Once More - James Bowman/Emma Kirkby|
|8. Act Two, Scene 3: Chor: The Clouded Scene Begins To Clear - Chor Of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom|
|9. Act Three, Scene 1: Recitative: What Sacred Horrors Shake My Breast! - James Bowman|
|10. Act Three, Scene 1: Chor: Unfold, Great Seer, What Heav'n Imparts - Chor Of New College, Oxford/Edward Higginbottom|
See all 19 tracks on this disc
Many Aled Jones fans have asked for recordings of him as a boy soprano. This recording of Handel's oratorio is one such and it included a cast of stars including Australia's very own Joan Sutherland, the Baroque soprano par excellence Emma Kirkby and a conductor very familiar to Australians, Christopher Hogwood. It went on to win many prestigious awards including the Gramophone Award for best choral recording and is here reissued by popular demand as a "twofer".
Messiah is the best known of Handel's oratorios, but it's far from typical. More common are Old Testament narratives such as Israel in Egypt, Joshua, and Saul. One of Handel's finest such efforts is Athalia, a tightly constructed, vivid retelling of the downfall of tyrannical Queen Athalia, daughter of Jezebel and worshiper of Baal. This superb 1985 recording was controversial in its initial release, due to the casting in the title role of the soon-to-retire Joan Sutherland--not the diva you'd expect to find starring in a period-practice Handel performance. Dame Joan doesn't exactly fit in with the baroque instruments (she overwhelms the obbligato flute in one aria) or with her colleagues (all Hogwood regulars), but her performance works: the tormented Athalia comes off as a creature very much separated from those around her, and Sutherland's notoriously mushy diction and inept acting are replaced by clear enunciation and real dramatic involvement. Anthony Rolfe Johnson, James Bowman (in unusually good voice), David Thomas, and the young Aled Jones all do sterling work as well. Then there's the radiant Emma Kirkby, who sings her high-flying, florid role with remarkable clarity, precision, and imagination. Check out her opening aria, "Blooming virgins": you won't find a better example of how to embellish a da capo aria--or how to transform a simply lilting song into a thrilling showpiece. --Matthew Westphal
Top Customer Reviews
Athalia was written in 1733 and received its first performance in Oxford's Sheldonian theatre, where commemorative performances still take place. It is based on Racine's Athalie, the English adaptation having been given, regrettably, to Samuel Humphreys. Humphreys was by no means the equal of Morell or Jennens who collaborated with Handel on Theodora and on Saul and Samson respectively. He was a fourth-rate hack, representative of the lowest common denominator of 18th century English poetry, and his vocabulary and diction are as trite as can be. Nevertheless the strength and simplicity of Racine's basic plot is still sufficient to provide Handel with a good enough foundation for his oratorio. Athalia was a tyrannical queen, a worshipper of Baal who had established domination over the Jews, the daughter of Jezebel who visited her in a dream and gave her the premonition of her impending overthrow and death. There are only six characters in total, plus of course the chorus, and the most significant of these other than Athalia is the boy Joas, the true king of Judah.
The casting of these two characters, who dominate the story although they do not have the largest share of the music, is what makes all the difference to a performance of Athalia. Joas is sung by the (then) boy treble prodigy Aled Jones, who now fronts a maudlin piece of Sunday evening religiosity known as Songs of Praise. For the evil queen someone had the inspired idea of inviting Joan Sutherland to take the part. She is a great Handelian of course, but an unfamiliar figure in Ancient Music circles. The role calls for a diva, someone with a big voice and a background in opera. Thus cast, the queen is admirably contrasted with the clear, bright voice of Emma Kirkby as Josabeth and the surprisingly strong treble tone of Aled Jones. The other parts are taken by the familiar cast of James Bowman, Anthony Rolfe Johnson and David Thomas with the choir of New College, Oxford, and the period-instrument ensemble is drawn from the Academy of Ancient Music under Hogwood. Here Hogwood does not, as he famously did in his epoch-marking Messiah, seem to be after speed records. The harpsichord continuo is fairly prominent, which I expect will not suit everyone, but it is done with predictable proficiency by Alistair Ross.
Given the general assumptions behind it, the performance seems to me in every respect admirable. One does not encounter performances of Athalia at every turn, to say the least, and I feel little or no inclination to look for faults with this one. It is absolutely wonderful music and the performance is a delightful mixture of the proven and reliable with the innovative and imaginative. I have no complaints about the recording either and there is a very helpful liner note by Winton Dean.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com
On the whole, this is a brilliant, wonderful performance from La Stupenda. The only drawback is her slow-moving first aria. She temporarily reverts back to her mushy diction, and there is a distinct wobble in her voice, typical of recordings she did in the last five years of her recording career. However, in her confrontation in the Act II with Josabeth (Emma Kirkby), she is again in fine form, and disperses her rage aria, My Vengeance Awakes Me with stunning bravura. It's as if the years melted away. Sure, it is closely miked, but her coloratura is first-rate, every high note perfectly pitched, with a multitude of interpolations and roulades. It's beyond me why I've never seen this aria on any Joan Sutherland aria recital compelation.
As for Emma Kirkby, she is a godsend. She came along at the right time, as more and more conductors were turning their attention to baroque music. Since she always used a "light", vibrato-less voice, she sounds basically the same today as she did two decades ago. Really, just about everything this woman recorded is worth buying, and this is no exception. Her Act II aria is absolute perfection. She showers you with her diamond-clear, dazzling voice with some of the most radiant top notes I have ever heard.
The rest of the cast varies in quality. Aled Jones, the boy soprano, has a quivery voice, that sort of puts me off. But, for being so young, he turns in a credible performance. James Bowman's legacy has been far outshone by Andreas Scholl and David Daniels, but this performance is worthwhile, even if he has that "nagging" edge to his singing.
P.S.- As a bit of trivia for Sutherland fans, I looked up what she had to say about this recording in her autobiography, A Prima Donna's Progress. She fusses about the baroque-era instuments going constantly out of tune. She also writes about being "musically overwhelmed" at this time in her career, and declares that she would have rather been at the beach with her family, rather than in the recording studio!!! Thankfully for us, she didn't go to the beach, and gave us what is one of her best late-career performances.
By 1985, Sutherland was well past her prime, but the sound works well as Athalia, underlining the distinction between the Baalite queen and the rest of the characters. If your only reason for buying this set is Sutherland, her main aria from this recording ("My vengeance awakes me") has been reissued on the 6CD set, The Art of Joan Sutherland.
Christopher Hogwood conducts vivaciously, as usual, leading the usual cast of singers.
James Bowman makes a strong case for using countertenors over mezzo-sopranos in castrati roles. His singing is of great beauty and intelligence. The phrasing in his aria, "O Judah," shows exquisite attention to the interplay of the text and music.
Emma Kirkby sings with her usual purity of voice. Her smaller tone contrasts well with Sutherland's overbearing Queen Athalia. Work of similar quality comes from David Thomas as Abner and Anthony Rolfe Johnson as the priest Mathan.
Highly recommended, particularly if you don't mind Dame Joan's older voice. This is a Handel oratorio chocked full of wonderful choral and solo singing.
A note on today's use of countertenors in castrato roles: primary sources indicate that composer Henry Purcell, a baritone, sang alto in church choral compositions. Falsetto singers were so used in his day. He fathered several children so he was NOT a castrato! He WAS a countertenor. He also composed a keyboard piece called "Sefauchi's Farewell" for a castrato engaged in a London production of an Italian opera. Upon Sefauchi's return to Italy Purcell wrote that music. If operatic castrati and church falsetto singers could have done the same job, wouldn't the audience have noticed? Given English anti-Catholic sentiment back then, some hungry satirist would have surely capitalized on it and lampooned the Italians for the senseless mutilation--as senseless it WOULD be if castrati and falsetto singers sounded the same. The foregoing is admittedly speculative. However, arguments favoring the use of countertenors instead of female altos are probably worse since they don't take the facts into account. Most arguments in any humanities discipline fall short of the rigid standards of evidence required in a court of law. Those of the "historically informed performance" movement are no exception.