We know Handel mostly for the operas (Ariodante, for example), biblical oratorios (Messiah), and instrumental works (Water Music) he wrote for London high society. Yet he was producing masterpieces such as these Latin sacred works composed in Rome when he was barely into his 20s. The big chorus-and-orchestra Dixit Dominus
and the soprano showpieces Sæviat tellus
, Laudate pueri
, and Salve Regina
have been recorded several times in recent years (including, most notably, Andrew Parrott's thrilling full-scale reconstruction of the lavish Vespers service for which Handel probably wrote these works), yet this lively performance by Marc Minkowski and les Musiciens du Louvre is as good as any of them. Since Handel wrote this music for virtuoso castratos, it's no surprise that the stars here are the (female) sopranos Annick Massis and Magdalena Kozená. Both have sweet, flexible voices with more body than, say, Emma Kirkby or Jill Feldman (two of Parrott's divas), yet without the wide vibrato and relentless legato that make so many singers unsuitable for period-instrument Handel. The performance isn't flawless: Massis does sometimes let her vibrato, however narrow, get in the way of long, sustained notes; the choir, surprisingly, lets vibrato get in its way overall, sounding better suited to Beethoven than Handel. Yet the energetic tempos and generally skillful execution make this a very worthwhile release. It competes against one of Parrott's finest recordings (two discs for a lower price than Minkowski's one), but if you don't want all that chant mixed in with your Handel or happen to dislike singers such as Kirkby and Feldman, then you won't find a better Dixit Dominus
than this. In fact, real Handel fans should want both. --Matthew Westphal
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