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Robert Levine, July 2006

This is an odd work, a sort of pastiche presented in 1733, with parts from three of the Chandos Anthems, bits of Il trionfo del Tempo, Dixit Dominus, Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, and other of Handel's works. Conductor Carlos Martini has added to this the overture to the Occasional Oratorio and a few more bits and pieces. Nonetheless--what do we care?--it's a very effective work (despite a lack of picturesque arias) with lots of big choruses (some in as many as eight voices), and it contains the only scene in opera or oratorio (albeit recounted, rather than witnessed) in which a bad guy gets his head nailed "With workman's Hammer and a Nail" to the ground by a not-very-warlike character, who also happens to be a woman. Only Judith of Judith and Holofernes is so tough, but I'm making a point. The performance is good. The English pronunciation presented by a couple of the cast members is problematic. The finest singing comes from the warrior Barak, in the voice of a countertenor new to me, the American Lawrence Zazzo, who has a big, intact tone that may even convince the anti-falsettists in the crowd. Almost as good are bass Jelle Draijer as his father and Ewa Wolak as the evil Commander of the enemy forces, Sisera. Wolak has a rich, dark sound (not unlike her countrywoman, Ewa Podles), fine exclamatory powers, and good coloratura technique. Martini and his energetic forces, with exciting string and harpsichord attacks underpinning the more warlike utterances, are a definite plus in this live recording, although there are some stage noises and the occasional not-quite-perfect choral ensemble. The set has some competition: Robert King leads a good reading on Hyperion, with a better Deborah and Jael (Yvonne Kenny and Susan Gritton), but it's a bit proper and it sounds like it was taped in a stairwell or tile bathroom. This present one--at less than half the price, by the way--is the one to own.

American Record Guide, August 2002

"There is much to admire in Martini's spirited performance...I was particularly struck by Lawrence Zazzo, who portrays with panache the Hebrew hero whose role was written for the castrato Senesino...I hope we will be hearing a lot more of him...It is important to have these new champions of Handel's still-underappreciated oratorios."

T. Hashimoto
San Francisco Examiner, June 2002

"This piece has terrific choruses and a lovely soprano, Elisabeth Scholl, in the title role."

Richard Wigmore
BBC Music Magazine, April 2002

"The music is often glorious, above all the eight-part choruses where Handel unleashes his unique mastery of massed choral forces... This new recording, taken from a concert performance, has its attractions, notably some shapely solo singing from Elisabeth Scholl, agile and graceful in the title role, and countertenor Lawrence Zazzo as the Israelite warrior Barak."

Stanley Sadie
Gramophone, March 2002

"The performance as a whole has a vitality that I find very persuasive. Martini brings plenty of enthusiasm to the music and clearly his players and singers share it... I do like the lively rhythms in the choruses and the forthright singing... Among the soloists, Elisabeth Scholl provides a big, ringing voice in Deborah's music, with good articulation and a pure line... Jael is sung by Natacha Ducret with a pleasing clarity and fineness of line.. The role of Barak, originally written for a castrato, is sung in a very even countertenor by Lawrence Zazzo, clear and well defined, the kind of voice that even those allergic to countertenors will not dislike."

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