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Customer Review

31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Definitive Saul? I think so, yes., 13 Mar. 2004
This review is from: Handel: Saul (Audio CD)
The singing is extraordinary, and practically every syllable audible. That should be a sine qua non but you don’t always get it. Ten from me for the the Archiv recording engineers, for dramatic balance as well as audibility.
- Neal Davies (Saul) has to get an Oscar or something. Imposing and involving from the first notes, but the scene at Endor in particular is unforgettable: the action is almost 3D. His dramatic range is enormous, and it would take some singer to out-sing this Saul.
- David: Andreas Scholl's most mature dramatic singing (on a recording) to date. Magnificent throughout but he surpasses himself in "O Lord whose mercies" and "O Jonathan/O Fatal Day". The best recits I have heard from him yet, too. As one critic already said, 'a David to die for'.
- Susan Gritton (Merab): another star with a huge dramatic range which she deploys to portray Merab's change of heart. Great characterisation and her usual first rate singing. A bit much vibrato for me, late in the action (only at one point), but very rewarding. A real cat, though properly and convincingly imperious (you can almost see her point) in the early scenes and sweet and mournful at the end.
- Michal (Nancy Argenta) audibly grows up during the drama. From sounding like a 16 year old making googoo eyes at the hero, she turns into a feisty woman. Argenta's experience adds a great deal to this recording. Deborah York was down to sing Michal but she was ill. Lucky for us Argenta was available :-)
- Mark Padmore's (Jonathan’s) recits *alone* are worth the price of the set - and he's not normally my favourite dramatic tenor by any means. Much deeper characterisation than in the live performances of a year or two back. He sounds utterly distraught at Saul's insanity. As the voice of "O let it not in Gath be heard", he sounds pole-axed, ashamed and angry in equal measure. Stunning singing.
- Paul Agnew is as good as you would expect, in his traditional ;-) role for McC of High Priest (vid. SOLOMON) but he is absolutely breath-stopping, horrifying, as the Witch.
- Young Jonathan Lemalu as the ghost of Samuel has the least expression among the singers but he does have a gorgeous sound -- and not a lot to do in this.
- The minor roles are all good (well, I can't *always* hear every word from Susan Hemington Jones, unfortunately, though her voice is OK), and Abner, the excellent Tom Phillips (principal tenor of the Gabrieli Consort, I think) is worth a mention of his own. A great singer.
- The alto and basso strings, the percussion (Marie-Ange Petit, sparkling), chamber organ solo (Tim Roberts) and harp (Frances Kelly) are all worth special mention.
McCreesh’s varied tempi and dynamics map beautifully on to the inherent drama, IMHO. Hearty, fireworks, when called for, but he is not afraid to go slow, to let the singing be reflective or tragic, nor of breathless quietness and dramatic silences -- quite heart-stopping in places. The grief as "Mourn, Israel" winds down is almost tangible, the Consort's singing absolutely beautiful, and the organ solo at the end of it -- in exhaustion and utter defeat -- is simply perfect.
McCreesh always tours a major work before recording it, as policy. I saw his SAUL, live, four times in the past two years. It improved markedly from a slow-ish start as the tour wound on, and the Lisbon performance, near the end of the tour, was an absolute stormer, but even so I was not expecting this. Simply terrific. For me, of all the versions I have heard, definitive.
This SAUL was the Sunday Times' Classical CD of the Week, so I am not alone in being impressed.
I hope the Jacobs SAUL recording (next year) is as good. I’ll have to have it, of course, even though the David probably could not be Scholl which, after hearing this, is a pity. He sang David for Jacobs in live performance two or three years ago and it was electric.
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