Handel was long dead when Gideon was put together, but the demand for his special invention the English oratorio continued, so there were ways of satisfying that. Handel's pupil John Christopher Smith (ne Johann Christoph Schmidt) the younger got together with the Rev Thomas Morell, librettist of the master's last two oratorios Theodora and Jephtha, and they cobbled together a `pasticcio', made up partly of music by Smith himself and partly of recycled material by Handel. All the music by Handel here, and some of Smith's, had new words wrapped round it by Morell, the genuine new music being the recitatives and accompagnatos. It was one way of doing things, I suppose.
I want to offer a resounding vote of thanks to Naxos and the performers for this production, whatever its shortcomings. It is a bold and imaginative venture, and I recommend it cordially to all Handelians and to music-lovers interested in musical byways. Most of Handel's stuff comes from Acis and Galatea, from his Dixit Dominus and from four of his nine exquisite German arias (dating from the height of his English period). I own performances of all of these, and the German arias are very fresh indeed in my memory from the marvellous recording by Dorothea Roeschmann. There is another item from his cantata Silete Venti, which I have at least heard, and the other pieces are new to me. I suppose I have to say that the four German aria performances here do not measure up to Roeschmann's by some miles, but that is not the point of this issue, and I did not even bother to remind myself of how Acis and the Dixit Dominus are done on my other records. The performance in general strikes me as a bit of a tumble-through, but a talented one for all that. The recording of the chorus is rather recessed and cavernous at times, but in general the engineering is quite acceptable. Smith seems to me not a bad composer at all, and it is probably a good thing under the circumstances that when the great authentic voice of the master is heard most clearly, as in the choruses Lord We Seek Thy Blessing (reminiscent of the great `darkness' chorus from Israel in Egypt) and Let Jehovah by Miracle Confirm, the contrast between the respective levels of inspiration is not as stark as it would have been in a `better' performance. Morell was a very competent librettist and he really deserves a lot of credit for what must have been a tricky task. Of the soloists, I should say that the bass Stephan MacLeod is not bad at all, and the counter-tenor David Cordier is better than that, with a very striking purity of tone that I would like to hear more of.
It would have been good to be told something about the instrumentalists. In particular, was that a lute or a harp I heard in the overture? Otherwise I want to compliment the production of the booklet, in particular the essay by Keith Anderson. A non-expert craves information when it comes to a work like this, and Anderson not only supplies it succinctly but also summarises the plot, which derives from the Book of Judges and concerns yet another rebuff to the luckless would-be rival deities to Jehovah. The individual numbers are listed first by their titles, second by their sources and lastly with the full text. I am almost ashamed to say that I found myself wondering what Beecham might have done with Gideon, and I banished the thought from my mind as being rank ingratitude. What we are given here, at a very modest cost, is something that most of us were unlikely ever to hear, and something that ought to excite the interest of any music-lover possessed of even a modicum of curiosity. What I can do to support this really admirable venture is to buy it for myself and recommend it as strongly as I am able. I would have loved to give it 5 stars, with the bar lowered suitably, but I don't really think I ought to, despite nearly 80 minutes' worth of music on each disc. Still, I want to commend this issue as strongly as I can to as many music-lovers as I can.