on 21 November 2012
I own another copy of Saul conducted by Jacobs, but listening to this recording has been a revelation to me. As other reviewers have commented, it is lively and expressive, but also compelling and provides a very dynamic line to the action (not just a collection of recitative and airs here). For this reason I am, for the first time, listening and enjoying this oratorio on par with Handel's Semele and Messiah.
The soloists are universally excellent. Of course, there are singers who one always prefers in other recordings (such as Rosemary Joshua's Merab under Jacobs); but they all work together so well that even these other favourites are not missed. Christopher Purves deserves particular plaudits as a vengeful, vile Saul and Robert Murray shows off great diction and style as Jonathan.
To pick a bone with one of the other reviews, Sarah Connolly is superb in this recording. I would also suggest that the preference for a mezzo or a countertenor is a personal choice; but it should be remembered that Handel originally intended the role of David for a mezzo or soprano (The Cambridge Handel Encyclopedia (2009), p567). However, the first performance was given by Mr Russell, who was a countertenor. This mixing of genders was not unusual in Handel works; and Handel generally employed the best available singer for a role. As Sarah Connolly is a notable Handel singer well-practiced in 'trouser roles', I feel that this is one occasion where we don't have to worry about whether this is right or wrong.
Finally, The Sixteen are on excellent form in the choruses and Alastair Ross provides some wonderful organ interludes.
on 8 May 2013
Brilliant recording of Handel's Saul with fantastic performances from soloists, especially Christopher Purves and Sarah Connelly. The Sixteen are also real stars here with fresh, crisp and blended sound in the choral segments (listen to the 'Eagles were not so swift as they' in Act 3). For me this beats the fantastic live recording by Hans-Christoph Rademann and the Dresden Baroque Orchestra (on Carus) and certainly rivals earlier recordings by Paul McCreash and the Gabriela Consort and the now rather dated-sounding John Eliot Gardiner version with the English Baroque Soloists.
With the release of Alan Curtis' Ariodante, I had to ask the question whether or not a new recording was absolutely necessary, and I feel that I have to ask the same question with the release of Harry Christopher's new recording of Saul. Whilst the answer was no for Curtis' too safe recording of Ariodante, the answer here is ...perhaps. The main reason is The Sixteen. To hear The Sixteen sing and play this beautiful music makes the recording worthwhile. What a glorious noise they make both live and on record. The playing is taut and expressive, and it is all stunningly recorded. The soloists are all very good, but with the exception of Christopher Purves' majestic Saul, none are exceptional. Although many reviewers admire Sarah Connolly's voice, I still feel it is an old fashioned and slightly fruity mezzo voice, especially for the role of David. Compared to countertenors Andreas Scholl and Lawrence Zazzo on the McCreesh and Jacobs recordings, there is little of the sublime in the extraordinary aria "Oh Lord whose Mercies Numberless"; it is all terribly earthbound. I'm afraid that Harry Christophers' case for a mezzo over a countertenor in this role doesn't convince me. David Daniel's version of this aria on his Handel oratorios disk confirmed (with additional evidence from Scholl and Zazzo's performances) that a countertenor brings a beautiful limpidity to David's arias that most mezzos can't quite reach. The McCreesh recording is still the best overall, but the Sixteen just push this new recording ahead of the Jacobs.
on 12 April 2015
This is a strong and often extremely beautiful version, with lovely instrumental playing, delicate, open and fresh. However, I find it difficult to engage with it fully which is partly the fault of the choice of singers. The first air is rather shrill and wobbly, creating a distinctly underwhelming opening after the stirring overture. Sarah Connolly has no such problems but her voice is not that of a youthful David. It sounds far too feminine and rather velvety, motherly. At no point does David feel male.
I'll finish by lamenting that the booklet is not included in the download, which would have made the transferring of the text/libretto to the individual tracks that much easier.