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Handel: Judas Maccabaeus Import

5.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Audio CD, Import, April 16, 1995
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Product Details

  • Performer: Guy de Mey, Lisa Saffer, Patricia Spence, David Thomas, Brian Asawa, et al.
  • Orchestra: Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra
  • Conductor: Nicholas McGegan
  • Composer: George Frideric Handel
  • Audio CD (April 16, 1995)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Format: Import
  • Label: Harmonia Mundi
  • ASIN: B0000007DJ
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #234,369 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

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Format: Audio CD
On rare and treasured occasions a collector of classical recordings will stumble across a performance so close to perfect that the the sensation felt may be something like that of a prospector finding an unexpected vein of gold. For me, hearing this recording for the first time was just such an event. Were it not for the fact that the Messiah has been given near sacred status in the musical canon, it would be tempting to argue that Judas Maccabaeus is Handel's finest oratorio. Whether or not this evaluation is accepted, the work is without doubt one of the greatest of all baroque masterpieces and McGegan and his ensemble give it the masterful treatment it deserves.
When David Thomas as Simon exclaims "The Lord worketh wonders," the presence of the Old Testament God seems manifest. When Guy De Mey as Judas commands "Sound an alarm," you may have a visceral desire to grab sword and shield and head off to battle. Patricia Spence has one the strongest, most dramatic mezzo deliveries I have heard and Lisa Saffer sings with such elegant beauty that her performance alone would be worth the price of the entire recording.
Both orchestra and chorus deliver their parts with a dramatic force appropriate to the work, but never become overwrought and never loose sight of the many fine subtlties in this score. Special praise goes to McGegan for avoiding a problem which often plagues Handel recordings. Never once does the orchestra threaten to smother the soloists.
Not only is this the finest Handel recording I have ever heard, it is the best I ever expect to experience.
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Format: Audio CD
This is a wonderful recording of Judas Maccabaeus. I must say, it is so beautiful, that I am compelled to place the some famous Handel Messiah recordings second to it. Judas Maccabaeus is one of Handel's finest oratorios; unlike in the Messiah there are a lot of soprano-alto duets, which keep you captivated. The rendering of `See the conquering hero comes' in this recording is splendid. It avoids the niceties found in other recordings and emphasizes the story line with such vibrant and dramatic effect that you get the feeling you were actually there, welcoming Judas on his return.
The soloists are all brilliant. A great job by Nicholas McGegan. If you've been looking for a beautiful Judas Maccabaeus recording, this is it.
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Format: Audio CD
... about this performance. Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra has a less-than-consistent history of recordings, ranging from excellent to "okay but...". And there's a choir. Murky, whooshy choral performances by largely amateur university choirs have spoiled scores of scores on CDs, including the awful efforts of The Choir of New College Oxford on the otherwise plausible recording of Judas by The Kings Consort. This time, however, it's the choir that steals the show; the UC Berkeley Chamber Chorus is magnificent. It was coached, in 1993 when this recording was made, by John Butt, who has gone on to a career of superb performances of Bach and Handel. The conductor was Nick McGegan, who seems to have a special affinity for Handel. Under his baton, both the orchestra and the choir surpass themselves.

Handel wrote this massive oratorio 'on speculation' - that is, in anticipation of a 'government' victory over the invading Jacobite forces of The Young Pretender in 1745. That victory was not achieved until the Battle of Culloden in 1746, the last-ever military engagement on British soil. Handel was never blind to commercial opportunity; this and other concert pieces he promoted during the war years were intended to stimulate patriotic fervor of the sort that would sell tickets. Judas Maccabaeus is above all a celebratory 'John Bull' oratorio, replete with martial trumpets and pyrotechnic percussion. It's Handel at his most English both in language and in musical affect. In fact, a listening comparison of Judas Maccabaeus with any of the young Handel's Italian cantatas would reveal how completely assimilated the Saxon became to his adopted lands, first to Rome and then to London.
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