What a glorious piece of music this is! Handel fills it with some of his most inspired music. There is always a sense in Handel's dramatic oratorios that Handel is putting on a show and many of the numbers can seem designed to be memorable through novelty and craft. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, and Handel's music is nearly always so well conceived and of such prodigious range that the listener is left in no doubt that the work is another towering masterpiece. Belshazzer is no different in this but on this hearing seems to me to rely less on novelty and artifice and more on purely solidly inspired music! The effect, most notably in Act 1, is of an obviously serious work. As ever, of course, there are numerous truly memorable songs and beautiful choruses.
This set is an outstanding bargain - a first rate performance ... or more than that. Pinnock has never done anything unmusical in his life. His pacing and phrasing here is masterly and full of life, full of music. The sound of the English Concert is as attractively blended as ever. The choir sings beautifully. Finally, the cast are all excellent. James Bowman is, I suspect, a counter tenor who divides opinion somewhat - there is a strong flavour to his singing - but I am a real fan! I love the sound he makes and he is a consumate musician. Rolfe-Johnson and Auger also sing beautifully and there is no weak member to the cast.
At this price there is no better way to start your exploration of Handel's wonderful legacy of dramatic oratorios. Or, if you've already begun that journey, you will find this an extraordinarily cheap way to add a priceless jewel to your collection!