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Handel: Samson [Box set]

George Frideric Handel, Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Nikolaus Harnoncourt Audio CD
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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  • Performer: Roberta Alexander, Angela Maria Blasi, Maria Venuti, Jochen Kowalski
  • Orchestra: Schoenberg Choir, Vienna Concentus Musicus
  • Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt
  • Composer: Georg Friederich Handel
  • Audio CD (1 Nov 1993)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: Box set
  • Label: Teldec
  • ASIN: B000000SG8
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 302,073 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Disc: 1
1. Symphony - Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
2. Menuet - Concentus Musicus Wien/Nikolaus Harnoncourt
3. Chorus of Philistines: 'Awake the trumpet's loftly sound!' - Arnold Schoenberg Chor/Erwin Ortner
4. Philistine woman (Air):'Ye men of Gaza, hither bring' - Angela Maria Blasi
5. Chorus of Philistines: 'Awake the trumpet's lofty sound!' - Arnold Schoenberg Chor/Erwin Ortner
6. Samson (Air):'Torments, alas! are not confined' - Anthony Rolfe Johnson
7. O chance beyond report - Jochen Kowalski
8. Oh mirror of our fickle state - Anthony Rolfe Johnson
9. Whom I have no complain of - Jochen Kowalski
10. Total Eclipse - Arnold Schoenberg Chor/Erwin Ortner
See all 25 tracks on this disc
Disc: 2
1. Samson, Dalila (Rec.): 'N'er think of that!' - Anthony Rolfe Johnson/Roberta Alexander
2. Dalila, Samson (Duet): 'Traitor (Traitress) to love! I'll sue (hear) no more' - Anthony Rolfe Johnson/Roberta Alexander
3. Chorus of Israelites: 'To man God's universal law' - Arnold Schoenberg Chor/Erwin Ortner
4. Harapha (Air): 'Honour and arms scorn such a foe' - Alastair Miles
5. Samson, Harapha (Duet): 'Go, baffled coward, go' / 'Presume not on thy God' - Anthony Rolfe Johnson/Alastair Miles
6. Chorus of Israelites: 'Hear, Jacob's God, Jehovah, hear!' - Arnold Schoenberg Chor/Erwin Ortner
7. Philistine (Air): 'To song and dance we give the day' - Christoph Pregardien
8. Chorus of Philistines: 'To song and dance we give the day' - Arnold Schoenberg Chor/Erwin Ortner
9. Chorus of Israelites and Philistines: 'Fix'd in his everlasting seat' - Arnold Schoenberg Chor/Erwin Ortner
10. Micah (Rec.): 'More trouble is behind: for Harapha' - Jochen Kowalski
See all 28 tracks on this disc

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely first rate 30 May 2009
By enthusiast TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
I cannot praise this set too highly! It is one I my absolute favourite Handel sets. Harnoncourt brings a master's touch - evident in almost every bar - in shaping and pointing the phrases and really bringing out the gravitas (so essential in this work: so rare to hear real gravitas in a modern Handel performance) and drama as well as the aching beauty of a stunning score. The various moods are brought out with precision (I'm talking emotional precision rather than precise playing - although the ensemble is of course excellent as well) and a real electricity pervades the whole performance. This goes beyond fashions in performance practice: it is just so evident that we are in the hands of a master ... or rather two masters (Handel being the other).

The singing is mostly excellent with Rolfe-Johnson really excelling himself as Samson and the Arnold Schoenberg Choir sounding (again) one of the finest choral ensembles in the world. The playing of the Vienna Concentus Musicus is marvellous - they make a truly glorious sound.

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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not Quite the *Samson* We've Been Looking For 12 Sep 2007
By Johannes Climacus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD|Verified Purchase
*Samson* bids fair to being Handel's most intensely dramatic oratorio. Samson's confrontations with Dalila and Harapha, the great Act II finale in which the Jews and Philistines enter into what amounts to a Baroque "Battle of the Bands," and the Act III recitative interrupted by a "Symhony of Horror and Confusion" represent some of the most remarkably vivid scene-painting in all of music.

Yet this revolutionary work (which inspired Haydn's *Creation*) awaits a recorded performance truly worthy of its astonishing invention. Harnoncourt's version, taken from a live performance with an international cast, can't be accused of being bland, staid or anything less than dramatically effective. As always, Harnoncourt is predictable in his unpredictability--a characteristic well suited to this kaleidoscopic work. Whether it be Samson's anguished meditation on his predicament ("Torments, Alas!"; "Total Eclipse!"), the Philistines' riotous orgy, or the Israelites' thunderous plea for liberation ("With thunder arm'd), Harnoncourt manages to convey Handel's sharply contrasting moods and extravagant musico-dramatic gestures.

What Harnoncourt fails fully to realize are the euphonious, indeed sensual aspects of Handel's music--and that holds not only for Dalilah's seduction scene, but also for some of Micah's prayerful arias and several of the more evocative choruses (e.g., "O first-created Beam"). True to form, Harnoncourt is a "mannerist" interpreter of Handel--and none the worse for that: "Baroque" means "bizarre" after all, and mannerism was part of the package from the time of Monteverdi. Yet there is a certain restraint, a classicism, and a lyricism in Handel which Harnoncourt doesn't fully appreciate.

The cast, too, is a mixed blessing. Alexander sings beautifully, if with a certain detachment, as Dalilah. Venuti as the Israelite Woman and Blasi as the Philistine Woman/Attendant also make positive contributions, despite their not-so-perfect English diction. Venuti gets to sing the one chestnut from the oratorio--"Let the bright Seraphim" (made famous by Joan Sutherland)--and her spectacular vocalism almost rivals Dame Joan. Almost. On the other hand, Rolfe-Johnson was having a bad day (or evening) when this recording was taken down; he strains to sound heroic, but ends up sounding. . .well, just strained. Over the long haul--and it is a long haul because Micah has quite a lot of music to sing--Jochen Kowalski proves to be a trial to the ear. The countertenor voice is not intrinsically unpleasant, but as employed here it lacks focus, agility, and suffers occasional lapses of intonation. Oh, for the days of Helen Watts! The other soloists are pretty good, though hardly exceptional. As usual, the Arnold Schönberg choir acquits itself splendidly--they are one of the most positive assets to this performance.

So, in the end, I cannot endorse this recording unequivocally. It has many virtues, but the weaknesses (particularly in the lyrical music and in the title role) do not make this a fully worthy successor to the (dare I say?) "classic" Karl Richter version (once available as a DG import), despite Richter's now-dated views on late Baroque performance practice. Richter had the incomparable Alexander Young as Samson, a superb Dalilah, and a choir which (despite a trace of German accent) proves riveting in every one of their varied exploits. One listen to Richter's rendition of the chorus, "Hear, Jacob's God!" will convince you how much more there is to Handel's score than . . . mannerism.

NOTE: Warner has recently released, as part of their bargain-priced Handel Edition, a very desirable box that includes Leppard's estimable recording of *Samson* from the late 1970's (a bit stuffy in places, but featuring a stellar lineup of soloists such as Janet Baker, Felicity Lott, Helen Watts, Robert Tear, and John Shirley-Quirk). Also included is Leppard's vintage *Messiah* from the same decade and a delightful recital of arias by Marilyn Horne. No texts provided, however.
2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well sung and well produced, excellent! 7 May 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
If you like Handel and Roberta Alexander, this CD is a great marriage of both! The merge of the orchestra and voices is excellent and well thought out. The singing was superb and inspiring. This is an excellently produced CD.
4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Intenso drama. 29 Mar 2002
By Ubail Zamora - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Audio CD
En este oratorio de Handel se unifican el drama y la música de forma indisoluble. La intensidad de la obra, planteada aquí por Harnoncourt, lo demuestra. Sus intérpretes son excelentes y la orquesta responde al director de forma maravillosa. Rolfe Johnson es un magnífico Samson, tan solo escuchar su interpretación del aria "Thus when the sun from's wat'ry bed " vale toda la audición. La Dalila de la Alexander es seductora y esta cantada con elegancia. Los bajos se encuentran a un alto nivel, sobre todo Alastair Miles, que muestra una insolencia vocal despampanante. Kowalski dibuja un dramático Micah con un sonido de auténtica contralto y los papeles secundarios son cantados con soltura, aunque Maria Venuti cargue un poco la voz en "Let the bright seraphim" y esto le impida unas ligerezas mas limpias. Esta quizás, hubiera podido ser la versión de referencia pero al parecer el director optó por una representación mas teatral suprimiendo escenas que pudieran detener la acción dramática. Visto así es completamente justificable, pero quien esté en busca de toda la música de Handel se perderá fragmentos de indiscutible belleza como las arias "Why does the God of Israel sleep" y "Joys that are pure". De todas formas esta es, indiscutiblemente, una de las mejores versiones del oratorio. No lo dude.
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