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Handel: Orlando

Handel: Orlando

1 Jan 2014
4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews

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Digital Booklet: Handel: Orlando
Digital Booklet: Handel: Orlando
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Product details

  • Original Release Date: 1 Jan. 2014
  • Release Date: 12 May 2014
  • Label: Decca (UMO)
  • Copyright: ℗© 2014 Deutsche Grammophon GmbH, Berlin
  • Record Company Required Metadata: Music file metadata contains unique purchase identifier. Learn more.
  • Total Length: 2:39:29
  • Genres:
  • ASIN: B00JVO3R0G
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 144,421 in Albums (See Top 100 in Albums)
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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

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On the positive side, this is a thrilling and exciting listening experience. There's energy aplenty, but also pathos, violence, heart-break, tunes, character, story. Handel's reputation as a genius amongst geniuses is definately enhanced by this opera, and by this recording. It is rare that we get the chance to experience it live in the opera house, so recordings are to be welcomed. I rather liked the two lead sopranos and the bass turned in a performance of a role which sounds to me to be taxing. But, like others writing on this page, the whole experience is marred (for me) by the singing of Bejum Mehta. Had he been merely one part of the overall ensemble it would not have been too bad, but as the title character, carrying a crucial musical and dramatic role at its centre, this does mark down the set. He has, and always has had, a pronounced vibrato, which he uses in an unimaginatiove and predictable way. It tired my ears and frustrated my enjoyment of the opera. For this I will give an otherwise wonderful and welcome set only 4 stars. Sorry. But loved the sheer ENERGY of the music.
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I can only agree with much of what has already been written by my co-reviewers.

The singing and orchestral playing is excellent, as is the recorded sound. The performance is well paced and is dramatically brought to life by the singers.

However, given that Jacobs has more than enough theatrical experience to bring this wonderful work to life, I fail to understand why he meddles so much with the score.

Many of his additions have already been commented on, but among the solecisms I spotted were a piccolo doubling the violins, a tambourine accompanying the final chorus, organ continuo, elaborate continuo links between tracts of recitative and changes of tempo within arias.

For me, this recording is an opportunity missed - had Jacobs stuck to the score, this would probably have been the number one choice of recording. As it is, it's something of a novelty act and music lovers looking for a faithful rendition of this superb score should look elsewhere.
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Those who have bought other René Jacobs recordings of Handel operas may know that they always get a little more than Handel wrote. This new Orlando is the same, with woodwind added to the string line, an anachronistic organ accompaniment to recitatives, and so on. These additions are pleasant to the ear, but of course not what was composed, and once again Jacobs rather gives the impression of thinking that he knows better than the composer. As other reviewers have already observed, there are extra twiddles and flourishes a-plenty too, including on a couple of occasions something that sounds for all the world like a telephone ringing. The fanciful tampering with the music in Orlando's mad scene made me cringe somewhat, even on repeated listening. These noises might be very acceptable in a theatre, but on a studio recording they work, at best, only the first time of hearing. After that they leave us longing for an unadulterated version of things--what it really "ought" to sound like.

That said, the orchestral sound here is excellent. The playing of the B'rock Orchestra is very fine indeed, and in isolation would merit five stars. I wonder how irritated the musicians may have been by Jacobs' directions, including the irrational speeding up or slowing down of the music at certain points, a very curious feature of this recording. Generally speaking, I like the soloists too. They sing with feeling and with colour. I could be persuaded that the terzetto that ends act one is the best on record, with all the lushness of Christie's ravishing but (it must be said) incorrectly slow version, and the correct speed of Hogwood's.

Where I am less happy is with Bejun Mehta as Orlando. I have never really been convinced by him, finding his singing unsteady and his vibrato exaggerated.
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Format: Audio CD
Act II of "Orlando" begins in a wood, with the Shepherdess Dorinda singing to and with nightingales. We may imagine onstage a roccoco sylvan scene with Dorinda suitably outfitted, more Marie Antoinette than Phoebe or Audrey. For this pretty picture Handel wrote a delicate little aria – he even took the trouble to specify how many violins should play each line, so as to get the balance just right. The total effect must have been exquisite – we can some idea of it from the Hogwood recording – but not quite exquisite enough for Rene Jacobs. He thinks Handel's orchestration needs help, so he adds a rainstick – one of those bean-filled hollow bamboos beloved of primary schools. If you think that sounds like a creative idea, you may well enjoy this recording; otherwise, perhaps not.

It's easy to understand why Jacobs chose to record "Orlando". Handel was under commercial pressure in 1733 and he responded with a magical mystery opera in which there is a dazzling scene-change or a great tune every ten minutes – sometimes both. He also included several dramatic scenes in the "pathetic" style for Senesino, the celebrity singer of the age. Jacobs' talent has always been to heighten drama, and "Orlando" was just the work to give him new ideas – except that it didn't. He just gives us all the monkey-tricks familiar from previous performances – remorseless unscripted recorder doubling (the primary school effect again), improvised obbligato lines, and a vast continuo battery - though here it’s the cellist who gets to camp it up, rather than the previously privileged keyboards (save for one or two riffs on Handel organ concertos!). Tasteful, it isn't.
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