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Handel: Samson


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Biography

On Friday 2 October 2009 Nikolaus Harnoncourt was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Gramophone awards ceremony in London.

Celebrating his 80th birthday in 2009, Nikolaus Harnoncourt was born in Berlin, grew up in Graz (Austria) and studied the cello in Vienna, where from 1952 to 1969 he was a cellist with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. In 1972 he became Professor for ... Read more in Amazon's Nikolaus Harnoncourt Store

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Frequently Bought Together

Handel: Samson + Handel: Solomon (DECCA The Originals) + Handel : Theodora
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Product details

  • Audio CD (23 Feb. 2009)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: WCJ
  • ASIN: B001OBVA2Q
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 13,335 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Disc: 1
1. Symphony
2. Menuet
3. "Handel : Samson HWV57 : Act 1 ""Awake the trumpet's lofty sound"" [Chorus of Philistines]"
4. "Act 1 Scene 1 : ""Ye men of Gaza, hither bring"""
5. "Act 1 Scene 1 : ""Awake the trumpet's lofty sound!"""
6. "Act 1 Scene 1 : ""Torments, alas! are not confined"""
7. "Act 1 Scene 2 : ""O mirror of our fickle state"""
8. "Act 1 Scene 2 : ""Total eclipse! no sun, no moon, all dark"""
9. "Act 1 Scene 2 : ""Since light so necessary is to life"""
10. "Act 1 Scene 2 : ""O first created beam!"""
See all 25 tracks on this disc
Disc: 2
1. "Act 2 Scene 2 : ""N'er think of that!"""
2. "Act 2 Scene 2 : ""Traitor to love! I'll sue no more"""
3. "Act 2 Scene 3 : ""To man God's universal Law"""
4. "Act 2 Scene 4 : ""Honour and arms scorn such a foe"""
5. "Act 2 Scene 4 : ""Go, baffled coward go"" / ""Presume not on thy god"""
6. "Act 2 Scene 4 : ""Hear, Jacob's God, Jehovah, hear"""
7. "Act 2 Scene 4 : ""To song and dance we give the day"""
8. "Act 2 Scene 4 : ""To song and dance we give the day"""
9. "Handel : Samson HWV57: Act 2 ""Fix'd in his everlasting seat"""
10. "Act 3 Scene 1 : ""More trouble is behind : for Harapha"""
See all 28 tracks on this disc

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Moore TOP 50 REVIEWER on 5 July 2014
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
I do not find this to be one Handel's most uniformly inspired works but it does in fact get better as it progresses, culminating, of course, in its most celebrated number, "Let the bright Seraphim in burning row", very well sung by Maria Venuti, even if she does not have the star quality of Joan Sutherland or Kiri Te Kanawa.

The cast as a whole is impressive: Anthony Rolfe Johnson is typically sweet, agile and heroic when required; no "weedy English tenor" he. He has complete command of the long-breathed phrasing Handel demands of his tenors and is aptly partnered by the seductively toned Roberta Alexander, whose bell-like soprano with its quick vibrato reminds me of Margaret Marshall - which I mean as a high compliment; she makes a vibrant and convincing Dalila, having a good trill, precise coloratura and smoky lower notes. Their arias and duet in the middle of Act II lie at the emotional heart of the oratorio, too, providing the focal point of the work. A young Alastair Miles makes a brief appearance as a sonorous Harapha in a pair of those showpiece bravura Handelian bass arias which are so memorable. Baritone Anton Scharinger is smooth and pleasant as Manoa, singing in decent English. The weakness in the cast for me is countertenor Jochen Kowalski's alternately hooty or rasping Micah, which lacks steadiness and tonal centre; his low notes are weak and there is too often a hole in the sound or an uncertainty regarding intonation. He makes me long for the now old-fashioned casting of a good alto like Helen Watts for Leppard in 1980 - although Robert Tear is not a patch on Rolfe Johnson as Samson.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By South Yorkshireman on 13 Feb. 2011
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This is a terrific performance of Samson in a crisp and clear recording. Helpful and detailed written notes in the accompanying booklet. I would point out however that the edition used by Harnoncourt has significant differences from the Novello vocal score that we are currently using with my choral society. If this does not matter to you, then go for this recording.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Jacques COULARDEAU on 26 Oct. 2011
Format: Audio CD
Handel supposedly invented the English oratorio. For sure the oratorio existed before but not in England for historical reasons. In Elizabethan and Jacobite times the theatre was not that musical. Music though was in churches and a great choir singing tradition remained very alive and even probably developed with Oxford and Cambridge being some strongholds of the tradition. Henry VIII helped music too but not in the direction of oratorios, rather the English madrigal.

Then the Puritans came and that kind of distraction (not entertainment, distraction of course) was banned and theatres closed and then the only surviving musical tradition was that of chorals and hymns in churches. The Glorious Revolution after the Restoration gave to music a new impulse and Purcell was first, going back to Shakespearian and Elizabethan subjects and bringing in some French forms. The theatres were reopened and music was reintroduced in them. It was the time of masques. Handel arrived and just pushed that renascent art slightly further and he developed the tradition of the opera and of the oratorio, or Biblical opera.

This oratorio is in this tradition and shows all the innovations Handel brought to the English stage.

First the instrumental music of the small symphonies and here a dead march too is rich and very innovative in the way the instruments are used together both contrasted and associated. He also uses the trumpets and other instruments of that family in a very dynamic way. The subject containing some military action is pushing that way. But even when the music is the accompaniment of an aria or a recitative it is rich and colorful.

The second element is the work on voices. They are not haphazard as they could have been even with Monteverdi.
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By Mrs. Skm Van Toller on 12 Nov. 2014
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Good recording.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A great oratorio and a beautiful music 26 Oct. 2011
By Jacques COULARDEAU - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Handel supposedly invented the English oratorio. For sure the oratorio existed before but not in England for historical reasons. In Elizabethan and Jacobite times the theatre was not that musical. Music though was in churches and a great choir singing tradition remained very alive and even probably developed with Oxford and Cambridge being some strongholds of the tradition. Henry VIII helped music too but not in the direction of oratorios, rather the English madrigal.

Then the Puritans came and that kind of distraction (not entertainment, distraction of course) was banned and theatres closed and then the only surviving musical tradition was that of chorals and hymns in churches. The Glorious Revolution after the Restoration gave to music a new impulse and Purcell was first, going back to Shakespearian and Elizabethan subjects and bringing in some French forms. The theatres were reopened and music was reintroduced in them. It was the time of masques. Handel arrived and just pushed that renascent art slightly further and he developed the tradition of the opera and of the oratorio, or Biblical opera.

This oratorio is in this tradition and shows all the innovations Handel brought to the English stage.

First the instrumental music of the small symphonies and here a dead march too is rich and very innovative in the way the instruments are used together both contrasted and associated. He also uses the trumpets and other instruments of that family in a very dynamic way. The subject containing some military action is pushing that way. But even when the music is the accompaniment of an aria or a recitative it is rich and colorful.

The second element is the work on voices. They are not haphazard as they could have been even with Monteverdi. He is in the tradition of Vivaldi and Mozart. He also uses altos who were castratos at the time and brought some to London for his operas. He had up to three permanent castratos in London in some periods, like when he produced Agrippina that has three alto parts. This oratorio has one alto part. Strangely enough he is not the main hero but his friend Micah, who plays an important role but is not the main hero.

Yet this voice is chosen to contrast with all other characters, especially when he is in a duet. Contrast with Samson, a tenor, with Manoa, a bass, Harapha, another bass, and he could have contrasted a lot more with Dalila, a soprano, but this production has reduced Dalila to little to center the oratorio on the heroic act or rebellion of Samson rather than his betrayed love affair with Dalila. Dalila betrayed Samson to the Philistines who thus managed to vanquish his strength and to blind him and put him to slavery in Gaza. Dalila is a secondary plot in this oratorio and Nikolaus Harnoncourt has reduced it.

Yet, to finish with the alto voice, in the play Samson is an enslaved hero who is more or less going to be a hero again, but in his death and by his death. On the other hand Micah, his friend is the real hero since he is a free man and he is the one who is going to guide Samson along, encourage him, even strengthen him in his weakness and give him the courage he needs to bring the fall of the Philistines and the cult of Dagon, the pagan god and idol. At the same time he is the one, with Samson's father, who is going to sing the dirge after his death, the funeral song.

The plot is also interesting not only because it is biblical. All that is in the Bible is not of interest, but because we are in England in the 18th century when England is living a great transformation: the invention of parliamentarianism but also the development of the Industrial Revolution, the agricultural revolution with the enclosure movement and England due to the fact that her kings have been of rather foreign origin for a century and a half, Scottish, Dutch and now Hanoverian needed to build some kind of national folklore. Purcell had invented a very British King Arthur and Handel develops oratorios on the great heroes of the Bible, Saul, Solomon, with David and other characters, and of course Jesus in his Messiah, and many others. The operas often concerned Roman emperors and generals and the question of the legitimacy of power.

This oratorio is of a deeper trend since it does not study the legitimacy of power but the legitimacy of rebellion when it is against here a pagan idol and paganism with a strong accent on the connection between the father and the son, their continuation in both direction and in this case the father is going to continue the son. These themes were themes directly debated in England with the successive kings and the religious debate which was far from being closed.

Some of the tracks are extremely beautiful. On the first CD the three tracks 11-12-13 with Manoah, the father, are extremely powerful and we meet in such tracks the great care of Handel to have librettos that were poetic. The very powerful chiasmus: "To sorrows now I tune my song, / And set my harp to notes of woe." gives to the music a meaningful artistic beauty that is not always present in many other operas and oratorios whose librettists are not necessarily great poets.

On the second CD the Symphony of Horror is quite effective as a break in the composition and the Dead March is also very special. Far from being a real somber dirge, it is a funeral rite for sure but that brings the dead man to glory, a sort of triumphant dead march. And Manoah's aria on track 26 is great poetry again with a whole set of intertwined chiasmi: "Glorious hero, may thy grave / Peace and honour ever have; / After all thy pain and woes / Rest eternal, sweet repose." The final chiasmus of the final line is at least as beautiful as the dead march/lullaby of the end of Bach's Saint John's Passion: "Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine,", "Rest well, sacred bones."

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This has a lot going for it, the Micah apart 5 July 2014
By Ralph Moore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
I do not find this to be one Handel's most uniformly inspired works but it does in fact get better as it progresses, culminating, of course, in its most celebrated number, "Let the bright Seraphim in burning row", very well sung by Maria Venuti, even if she does not have the star quality of Joan Sutherland or Kiri Te Kanawa.

The cast as a whole is impressive: Anthony Rolfe Johnson is typically sweet, agile and heroic when required; no "weedy English tenor" he. He has complete command of the long-breathed phrasing Handel demands of his tenors and is aptly partnered by the seductively toned Roberta Alexander, whose bell-like soprano with its quick vibrato reminds me of Margaret Marshall - which I mean as a high compliment; she makes a vibrant and convincing Dalila, having a good trill, precise coloratura and smoky lower notes. Their arias and duet in the middle of Act II lie at the emotional heart of the oratorio, too, providing the focal point of the work. A young Alastair Miles makes a brief appearance as a sonorous Harapha in a pair of those showpiece bravura Handelian bass arias which are so memorable. Baritone Anton Scharinger is smooth and pleasant as Manoa, singing in decent English. The weakness in the cast for me is countertenor Jochen Kowalski's alternately hooty or rasping Micah, which lacks steadiness and tonal centre; his low notes are weak and there is too often a hole in the sound or an uncertainty regarding intonation. He makes me long for the now old-fashioned casting of a good alto like Helen Watts for Leppard in 1980 - although Robert Tear is not a patch on Rolfe Johnson as Samson.

Harnoncourt is on best form, his conducting alive and elegantly phrased with no distracting HIP mannerisms; indeed he is almost classically restrained, relying on the exquisite harmonies and melodies of the more reflective numbers to do the work without any undue leaning on the notes. The virtuosity of the Consensus musicus Wien on original instruments is by 1992 a given; we do not have to worry about intonation or whining; their quality is most apparent in the scurrying "Symphony of horror and confusion" or the sombre, otherworldly "Dead March" which follows it.

We may similarly confidently rely on the Arnold Schoenberg Choir, especially as there are a lot of big choruses to negotiate.

This is now available as an attractively packaged bargain issue, the libretto being on the Warner website.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Five Stars 7 Sept. 2014
By Kindle Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Handel is a great composer! That's my only reason.
stellar condition 17 April 2014
By Dallas P. - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
The CD was in new condition with no damage to casing. One of the better recordings, and much better priced. I greatly enjoy AR Johnson performing Handel pieces ever since I first heard the Monteverdi Choir recording of The Messiah.
Samson 12 Jan. 2015
By William J. White - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
Wonderful recording.
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