on 2 January 2014
I have always loved this work since hearing Arleen Auger as Nitocris and Anthony Rolfe-Johnson as Belshazzar . All the singers here are very good but Iestyn Davies ,once again, gives an outstanding performance. The set,which is beautifully presented under Les Arts Florissants'own label,is worth purchasing for his singing alone
Recorded in 2013, on their own label, by the impeccable Les Arts Florissants under their visionary France-based American conductor William Christie, with an intriguing cast, this is a near-perfect three-disc reading of Handel's beautiful oratorio.
For me, Rosemary Joshua is almost a guarantee of quality, and she shines here as the title character's mother Nitocris. (Handel's excellent librettist Charles Jennens used not only the biblical story in the book of Daniel, but also plundered Herodotus to eke out the tale and its background.)
Counter-tenor Iestyn Davies is suitably smooth-toned as Daniel, with Allan Clayton superbly insightful as Belshazzar. The choral passages are gloriously sung and the playing is as sensitive and subtle as most recordings from this source.
I thought Caitlin Hulcup, the Australian mezzo, starts off rather underpowered as Cyrus, as if the musicians are drowning out her not particularly forceful voice, and I wasn't too sure either about the bass of Jonathan Lemalu as Gobrias, which sounds at first slightly uncertain and fails to make its mark as it should. However, these quibbles faded into irrelevance the more I listened, since this cast really do sound like a team - Christie must be an inspiring conductor. In the end, all are singing wonderfully, despite any 'false starts'.
The packaging, including two booklets of various notes, photos, biographies and synopsis, is exemplary, and is worth an extra star in itself.
I do have Handel recordings by other forces, but I often find myself plumping for Christie and his hand-picked Arts Florissants, whose performances seem to have something extra that others miss: not too 'period' and not at all heavy or old-fashioned, with the singers given plenty of breathing-space, as it were, to flourish and give of their best.