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on 11 November 2015
None of the other reviews mention that this recording with largely Viennese forces has a mixture of English and Germanic soloists. Particular mention needs to be made of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Julia Varady as Saul and Merab as these are significant roles. Their English is occasionally a little muffled but this is not unduly distracting and I am sure Haendl himself would have approved. Paul Esswood is wonderful as David. I do prefer a counter tenor. Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Elizabeth Gale are as good as any competitor. The choir are expertly coached and their words are very audible.
Concensus Musicus make a lovely sound and play in a very attractive acoustic and the audience are most unobtrusive.
Harnoncourt directs incisively and idiomatically.
The competition is heating up for Saul and I doubt if many would consider this first choice. But it is darned good and you miss it at your peril.
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Harnoncourt's recording of 'Saul' was first issued by Teldec in 1986, re-issued in 1995 and then again in 2009 – the first two with a German baroque painting of the death of Saul on the box cover, replaced by a Dutch Golden Age still life for the 2009 re-issue. Amidst an impressive choice of recordings of the great work, Harnoncourt's account is notable for several reasons. One is that this is a live recording, made in Vienna; another is the mix of British and continental soloists; and the third factor, the one which stands out most clearly, is the conductor's dramatic and heartfelt vision of the work.

That powerful insight is very effectively shared by the performers - the soloists, the Vienna State Opera Chorus and the Concentus Musicus Wien ensemble. All the great choral and orchestral set pieces go superbly, with energetic choruses and splendid instrumental symphonies. To take only a few examples, the celebratory choruses in Part 1, such as 'How excellent thy name, o Lord' and 'Welcome, welcome, mighty king' are vigorous and incisive, expressing both the joy and the majesty of Handel's score. Opening Part 2, the uniquely powerful 'Envy, eldest born of hell!' receives a somewhat unusual rendering, its hushed opening tiptoe-ing in stealthily at a fairly quick tempo, with initially subdued anger rising and falling rather than being belted out with the grim, sustained fury it more usually conveys. This approach may not be to everyone's taste, but musically I found it highly effective. Later on, 'Oh fatal consequence of rage' is both vigorous and deeply felt, and 'O fatal day!' is extremely affecting.

The soloists are every bit as good. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau makes a superb Saul, baring his soul in this powerful character role, with a distinct accent to his English which to me doesn't matter one bit. Julia Varady is an excellent Merab, again with an accent – but you soon get used to it and, since all the characters are foreign anyway, who cares? Paul Esswood, at his very best here, is outstanding as David. Elizabeth Gale's Michal and Anthony Rolfe Johnson's Jonathan respond equally well, the whole team of soloists rising to the inspiration of Harnoncourt's vision of this mighty psychological drama.

The recorded sound takes some getting used to, sounding just a bit lightweight at times; but listeners with tone controls can compensate for this quite effectively. So the choir's words are sometimes hard to make out, and the carillon in the Symphony at the end of Act 1, scene 2, sounds a bit feeble. Harnoncourt made a few cuts for this live performance, mainly to some recitative and da capo passages, but nothing that bothers me. So the work occupies two well-filled CDs, as opposed to the more usual three.

'Saul' has been increasingly fortunate on disc in recent years, with well-regarded versions available from Gardiner, Neumann, McCreesh, Christophers, Rademann and Jacobs. Apart from the present set, my favourites are those directed by McCreesh and Jacobs - the former an outstanding all-rounder, and the latter virtually matching Harnoncourt in penetrating to the very heart of Handel's psychological drama, and in better recorded sound. I'm not familiar with the Gardiner, Christophers or Rademann recordings.

Booklet notes are good, and texts and translations are supplied. Altogether, Harnoncourt's imaginative and compelling vision of 'Saul' is a stunning success, and to say that it's worth experiencing would be an understatement. For completeness and outstanding recorded sound, however, if I had to pick a single version it would probably be the one from René Jacobs.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 31 August 2014
A impressive edition of Handel's seldom heard oratorio whose fine cast and orchestra provide admirable performances.
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on 25 August 2011
A seriously good recording of Handel's agonised masterpiece about love of country and love of of friends. This is the trauma of the Glorious Revolution set to music and gloriously realised in a vibrant performance with fine, fine singing. Paul Esswood's rendition of David's lament is beautifully realised. And the final chorus is staggering....
11 Comment| 17 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse
Harnoncourt's recording of 'Saul' was first issued by Teldec in 1986, re-issued in 1995 and then again in 2009 – the first two with a German baroque painting of the death of Saul on the box cover, replaced by a Dutch Golden Age still life for the 2009 re-issue. Amidst an impressive choice of recordings of the great work, Harnoncourt's account is notable for several reasons. One is that this is a live recording, made in Vienna; another is the mix of British and continental soloists; and the third factor, the one which stands out most clearly, is the conductor's dramatic and heartfelt vision of the work.

That powerful insight is very effectively shared by the performers - the soloists, the Vienna State Opera Chorus and the Concentus Musicus Wien ensemble. All the great choral and orchestral set pieces go superbly, with energetic choruses and splendid instrumental symphonies. To take only a few examples, the celebratory choruses in Part 1, such as 'How excellent thy name, o Lord' and 'Welcome, welcome, mighty king' are vigorous and incisive, expressing both the joy and the majesty of Handel's score. Opening Part 2, the uniquely powerful 'Envy, eldest born of hell!' receives a somewhat unusual rendering, its hushed opening tiptoe-ing in stealthily at a fairly quick tempo, with initially subdued anger rising and falling rather than being belted out with the grim, sustained fury it more usually conveys. This approach may not be to everyone's taste, but musically I found it highly effective. Later on, 'Oh fatal consequence of rage' is both vigorous and deeply felt, and 'O fatal day!' is extremely affecting.

The soloists are every bit as good. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau makes a superb Saul, baring his soul in this powerful character role, with a distinct accent to his English which to me doesn't matter one bit. Julia Varady is an excellent Merab, again with an accent – but you soon get used to it and, since all the characters are foreign anyway, who cares? Paul Esswood, at his very best here, is outstanding as David. Elizabeth Gale's Michal and Anthony Rolfe Johnson's Jonathan respond equally well, the whole team of soloists rising to the inspiration of Harnoncourt's vision of this mighty psychological drama.

The recorded sound takes some getting used to, sounding just a bit lightweight at times; but listeners with tone controls can compensate for this quite effectively. So the choir's words are sometimes hard to make out, and the carillon in the Symphony at the end of Act 1, scene 2, sounds a bit feeble. Harnoncourt made a few cuts for this live performance, mainly to some recitative and da capo passages, but nothing that bothers me. So the work occupies two well-filled CDs, as opposed to the more usual three.

'Saul' has been increasingly fortunate on disc in recent years, with well-regarded versions available from Gardiner, Neumann, McCreesh, Christophers, Rademann and Jacobs. Apart from the present set, my favourites are those directed by McCreesh and Jacobs - the former an outstanding all-rounder, and the latter virtually matching Harnoncourt in penetrating to the very heart of Handel's psychological drama, and in better recorded sound. I'm not familiar with the Gardiner, Christophers or Rademann recordings.

Booklet notes are good, and texts and translations are supplied. Altogether, Harnoncourt's imaginative and compelling vision of 'Saul' is a stunning success, and to say that it's worth experiencing would be an understatement. For completeness and outstanding recorded sound, however, if I had to pick a single version it would probably be the one from René Jacobs.
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on 18 December 2015
Arrived on time. Item as described.
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on 21 February 2013
Not quite the catchy tunes of the Messiah but a lot to appreciate with some some original touches that make it worth spending the time lon it all. Excellent.
11 Comment| 3 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse


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