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Cantate - The Choice Of Hercules, HWV69 (1751)
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Robert King follows up his recent, resplendent, critically acclaimed reconstruction of the Coronation of King George II (CDA67286) with some more Handel, this time in the form of his lesser-known one-act dramatic cantata, The Choice of Hercules. When Handel introduced English oratorios to London in the 1730s, 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 realisation of a Classical tale. It started life in 1749 as music for Alceste, but the Covent Garden production was cancelled, leaving Handel with an hour of superb music on his hands. By the summer of 1750 he had adapted several numbers and added new ones, and in 1751 it premiered as an additional New Act concluding a performance of the ode Alexander s Feast. Much of the music from the original conception (the story of a loyal wife who dies to save her husband and is subsequently rescued from the Underworld by Hercules) transferred easily to its new guise, for example the noble opening Sinfonia, originally intended to mark Hercules return from the Underworld, now entirely apt for the entrance of the young Hercules in the new drama. Hercules choice is thus: on the verge of manhood, he is contemplating his future when two women appear to him. One, Vice, eager and seductive, shows him a path which seems to offer easy progress to a life of indolent pleasure. The other, tall and beautiful and identified as Virtue, warns Hercules that what is truly good can only be obtained through hard effort; and only then can Hercules gain supreme glory. Also on this disc is an anthem by Maurice Greene, a contemporary of Handel, and by all accounts an arch rival, particularly when Handel was chosen above Greene by George II to write the new anthems for his coronation. Full marks to Robert King who has assembled yet again a formidably superb collection of artists to perform this particularly attractive repertoire.
THE 2003 INTERNATIONAL HANDEL RECORDING PRIZE 'The Choice of Hercules is one of Handel's best-kept secrets ... Robert King and his expert team evidently relish the work s hedonistic charms' (The Daily Telegraph) 'A delightful sequence of 24 brief numbers telling the story of Hercules making his choice between Virtue and Pleasure ... Robert King brings out the unquenchable freshness of invention that Handel retained even in his last years, with the choir and players of The King's Consort consistently responsive and resilient' (The Guardian) 'Susan Gritton and Alice Coote are exquisite as Pleasure and Virtue. A delightful rarity, coupled with an appealing anthem by Handel's English contemporary Maurice Greene' (The Sunday Times) 'And about time too! An admirable addition to Robert King's ongoing Hyperion Handel series' (International Record Review) 'Strong choral singing and excellent orchestral playing add to the merits of a performance that bears all the characteristic hallmarks of Robert King's stylish, vital direction ... Strongly recommended' (Goldberg) 'This is a lovely performance. All the soloists are in exceptionally good voice ... Robert King directs proceedings with his spry confidence' (Evening Standard) 'Another major release from one of our most accomplished Baroque outfits' (Organists' Review) 'a glowing and altogether irresistible sound' (Fanfare, USA) 'excellent soloists ... nicely pointed playing and singing from orchestra and chorus' (Early Music News) 'In its colour and tunefulness this is extracted essence of Handel, immaculately performed by Robert King s finely disciplined forces' (Musical Opinion) 'Robert King is a fine Handelian, in that he uses the best players and some of the more characterful singers around ... some very fine singing (Early Music Review) 'Fine notes and full texts complete yet another example of King's superlative recording activities a must for Handelians' (American Record Guide) 'The confident performance by The King's Consort is compelling and full of refinement, catching the music s flavour and drama brilliantly' (Cathedral Music) 'this new recording of the little-known Choice Of Hercules is a welcome addition to their discography ... As usual with The King s Consort recordings, the playing of the musicians is tight and balanced, with a fine equilibrium between soloists, chorus and orchestra' --(musicweb.uk.net)
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Il s'agit ici d'un interlude musical (1751), non d'un oratorio.
Je parlerai de la création de l'oeuvre pour l' édition CAPRICCIO.
KING a choisi ALICE COOTE, une mezzo non spécialiste de la musique baroque, qui présente une Vertu assez sévère, avec un grand talent. SUSAN GRITTON, collaboratrice de KING est toujours exceptionnelle (le Plaisir).
CHARLES DANIELS, compagnon du Plaisir, est excellent dans un rôle plus ingrat. La surprise est le contre-ténor, genre que j'apprécie peu, ROBIN BLAZE exceptionnel en HERCULE.
La pièce complémentaire est évidemment moins intéressante.
Je signale aux admirateurs de J.S. BACH, groupe heureusement en voie de disparition, que le maître avait traité le même sujet dans HERCULES AUF DEM SCHEIDEWEGE composé en 1733 pour l'anniversaire du prince héritier de Saxe. Il reprit une partie de cette musique dans son ORATORIO DE NOEL. Tout cela le rendant plus humain que sa légende.
Une grande réussite recommendable.
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"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). Special mention must be made of tenor Charles Daniels, who though he was in a minor role, was outstanding in his historically-informed and elegant singing.
Robert King provides a highly intriguing work by Maurice Greene ('Hearken unto ye, ye holy children') to couple 'Hercules'. A contemporary of Handel, and by all accounts and arch-rival, particularly when he was chosen above Greene by George II to write the new anthems for his Coronation. Greene's ode on this disc contains some fine music, but hardly equal to either Purcell or Blow for unabashed brilliance, let alone Handel at his best. However, it is a curious coupling and receives an exciting interpretation by the three male soloists: Robin Blaze, Charles Daniels and Peter Harvey!
Full marks to Robert King who has assembled a formidably superb collection of artists to perform this particularly attractive oratorio.
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. Yet the pieces I'm reminded of were written perhaps ten years after Greene's work: Handel's anthem "Sing Unto God" and "The Lord Is a Man of War" from Israel in Egypt! Greene's choruses may be routine and four-square compared to Handel's, but the vocal writing is expert, and I'm glad for the opportunity to know this work.
In sum, an important offering from the always enterprising Robert King and Hyperion. The singing and playing are of the highest order as well, and it's all captured in Hyperion's usual clean, airy sonics.
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.