With today's welcome revival of Handel's operas and oratorios, one oratorio other than Messiah has become a favorite for choral conductors and choirs -- Solomon. Like Messiah and Israel in Egypt, Solomon contains many of Handel's greatest choruses,including the antiphonal "Your harps and cymbals sound," the madrigal-like "May no rash intruder" with its nightingale imitations by the woodwinds, and two choruses long standard repertoire for college and church festivals, "Swell the full chorus to Solomon's praise" and "Music, spread they voice around."
Besides the chorus which provides dramatic momentum as a principal player in the drama, the very large orchestra adds urgency and intensity to the drama as do the protagonists -- Solomon, Solomon's queen, two harlots, the Queen of Sheba, and Zadok, the high priest. With such a contradictory cast of characters covering the entire emotional range from rage to remorse, Handel is once again the master of enhancing the drama with appropriate music. A great example, especially as magnificently sung by soprano Alison Hagley is the harlot's pathetic plea ending with the words, "Take him all...but spare my child."
Nevertheless, the stars of this superb performance (which presents every note composed for the 1749 premiere) are Paul McCreesh's responsive Gabrieli Consort and Players, and the Solomon as sung by one of today's most extraordinary singers, countertenor Andreas Scholl. His "What though I trace each herb and flower" is one of many moments when message and music fuse into a single force. Scholl's soaring tone can be dark, bright, cutting or imploring depending on dramatic necessity.
Spacious recorded sound from All Saints, Tooting. Highly recommended.
K.S. (SEPT. 1999)