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Handel: The Choice of Hercules Import

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Import, May 14, 2002
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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Throughout his life Handel was an inveterate recycler both of other people's music and his own; The Choice of Hercules (1751) consists for the most part of music he wrote the year before for Tobias Smollett's Alceste, a play intended for Covent Garden's 1750 season but never performed. Unwilling to see his efforts go to waste, Handel contrived an hour-long "interlude" based on a poem by Joseph Spence and probably adapted by his regular librettist Thomas Morell. The story is a slight slice of classical mythology: Hercules must choose between the temptations of Pleasure or the righteousness of Virtue. The outcome is hardly a surprise, and only in 18th-century theater could Hercules plausibly be portrayed as a castrato, but the story is merely a flimsy excuse for a succession of splendid solo arias and choruses.

With the exception of a small tenor part (here sung by Charles Daniels), the soloists are all in the high register (soprano, mezzo, and countertenor), yet their music is of such variety of color that there's no sense of sameness. The very compactness of the score ensures that there are no dull moments, but especially outstanding are Virtue's stately "Go, assert thy heav'nly race," a dotted-rhythm Purcellian chorus, "So shalt thou gain immortal praise," and Hercules's limpid "Yet can I hear that dulcet lay."

Maurice Greene's 1728 anthem Hearken unto Me, Ye Holy Children is a welcome makeweight, though inevitably perhaps it seems rather foursquare when placed next to Handel's exuberant invention. Robert King and his King's Consort are Handelians par excellence, of course. Susan Gritton, Alice Coote, and Robin Blaze are a secure trio of soloists in the Handel, and bass Peter Harvey joins for the Greene. The result is an important addition to Hyperion's marvelous Handel series. --Mark Walker

Track Listings

Disc: 1

  1. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Sinfonia
  2. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Accompagnato: See Hercules! how smiles yon myrtle plain
  3. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Air: Come, blooming boy
  4. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Air: There the brisk sparkling nectar drain
  5. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Solo and Chorus: While for thy arms that beauty glows
  6. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Recitative: Away, mistaken wretch, away!
  7. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Air: Thi s manly youth's exalted mind
  8. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Recitative: Rise, youth! exalt thyself and me!
  9. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Air: Go, assert thy heav'nly race
  10. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Recitative: In peace, in war
  11. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Solo and Chorus: So shalt thou gain immortal praise
  12. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Recitative: Hearst thou, what dangers the thou must engage?
  13. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Solo and Chorus: Trun thee, youth, to joy and love
  14. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Recitative: Short is my way, fair, easy, smooth and plain
  15. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Air: yet, can I hear that dulcet lay
  16. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Air: Enjoy the sweet Elysian grove
  17. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Recitative: Oh! whither, reaso, dost thou fly?
  18. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Trio: While shall I go?
  19. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Recitative: Mount mount the steep ascent
  20. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Air: Mount, mount the steep acsent
  21. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Chorus: Arise! mount the steep ascent
  22. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Recitative: The sounds breathe fire
  23. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Air: Lead, goddess, lead the way!
  24. The Choice of Hercules, oratorio, HWV 69: Chorus: Virtue will place thee in that blest abode
  25. Hearken Unto Me, Ye Holy Children, anthem for soloists, chorus & ensemble: Solo: Hearken unto me, ye holy children
  26. Hearken Unto Me, Ye Holy Children, anthem for soloists, chorus & ensemble: Chorus: Magnify His name
  27. Hearken Unto Me, Ye Holy Children, anthem for soloists, chorus & ensemble: Chorus: And in praising Him you shall say
  28. Hearken Unto Me, Ye Holy Children, anthem for soloists, chorus & ensemble: Solo: To be a father
  29. Hearken Unto Me, Ye Holy Children, anthem for soloists, chorus & ensemble: Duet: Therefore shall he receive a glorious kingdom
  30. Hearken Unto Me, Ye Holy Children, anthem for soloists, chorus & ensemble: Recitative: How is he numb'red
  31. Hearken Unto Me, Ye Holy Children, anthem for soloists, chorus & ensemble: Solo: His name shall endure for ever
  32. Hearken Unto Me, Ye Holy Children, anthem for soloists, chorus & ensemble: Chorus: Blessed be the Lord God of our fathers


Product Details

  • Performer: Susan Gritton, Robin Blaze, The Choir of the King's Consort
  • Conductor: Robert King
  • Composer: Handel
  • Audio CD (May 14, 2002)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Format: Import
  • Label: Hyperion UK
  • ASIN: B000063TSJ
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #294,680 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

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IMMORTALITY (VIRTUE) OR IMMORALITY (PLEASURE)? THAT'S MY CHOICE!!???

"The Choice of Hercules"is in effect a one-act dramatic cantata in English, and as such it is unique in Handel's output. When Handel introduced English oratorios to London, he did not confine himself to sacred subjects, exploring also Classical myths, with texts based on Roman and Greek literature. 'The Choice of Hercules' marks Handel's last realization of a Classical tale.

It is the story of a young man on the threshold of manhood (Hercules-Robin Blaze-countertenor) contemplating his future. Two women appear to him. One, eager and seductive, shows him a path that offers indolent pleasure (Pleasure-Susan Gritton-soprano). The second woman, tall and beautiful, is identified as Virtue(Alice Coote-mezzo soprano); she warns Hercules that what is really good can only be obtained through hard work. There is also an attendant on Pleasure who is a cheerleader for her. Charles Daniels sings this role.

I especially liked Mezzo Alice Coote's interpretation of Virtue. She was very strong dramatically and vocally. Susan Gritton as Pleasure was formidable in her role. However, all of the singers sang well in their respective roles. I always find it difficult to accept Blaze's characterizations. In this cantata he is choosing his future path. Will it be Pleasure or Virtue? He sings it as if he were choosing the flavor of an ice cream cone instead of temporary life or immortality.

Robert King must be commended for his judicious choice of tempos, attractive melodic phrasing, and careful attention to aspects beyond the solo singing(such as the sympathetic management of Handel's orchestral and choral writing).
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The other reviews on this page cover the genesis and character of Handel's little choral entertainment, so I won't revisit those issues here. I'll simply state that if the work isn't top-drawer Handel, it certainly comes from high on the pile in Handel's full-to-bursting second drawer. The music is unfailingly bright (some of that has to do with the range of the voices involved--mostly high voices), attractive, and written with Handel's usual care to convey the personalities and emotional equipage of his dramatis personae. So Pleasure's music often fairly dances, while Virtue's plies a steadier, more high-minded musical course. The chorus, in Greek chorus fashion, provides perfect commentary on the slight action of the piece.

As the notes to the recording point out, Hercules' final aria and the final chorus are both in the minor key. There seems to be some commentary here on Handel's part: the road of virtue may be an elevated one, but it's not without potholes. That road, of course, led our hero to his irksome Twelve Labors and to a terrible death right out of, well, Greek mythology. But that's beyond the scope of Handel's little work, even if the master glances toward the later life of Hercules in those somber final pages of "The Choice."

The anthem "Heaken unto Me, Ye Holy Children" (1728), with verses from the Apocrypha and Psalms, is at first glance a curious choice as a makeweight. The composition's theme, certainly, is virtue (or its religious analog, holiness), but this is clearly a sacred work that recalls, in its finest pages--a duet for tenor and countertenor and a solo for bass--the sacred music of--who else? Handel.
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This is a fine recording of Handel's work done by the King's Singers. The work is an oratorio (similar to The Messiah) rather than an opera. The songs center on Hercules choice between a life of pleasure and virtue. Soloists represent Pleasure, Virtue and Hercules and a chorus provides some narration.

Unlike some of Handel's other works there aren't a lot of show-stoppers and there are a lot of recitatives. It is still well done; fans of the Baroque and of Handel's vocal works will like this.
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Handel: The Choice of Hercules is a recording under the direction of Robert King who leads the The Kings Consort on this Hyperion Records Limited recording from 2002. We also have the pleasure to listen to the Choir of the Kings Consort. Anthony Hicks has written the liner-notes and the booklet also contains photographs of the performers along with a very nice painting of Handel. Highly recommended. 5/5.
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