John Butt / Dunedin Consort

Handel: Samson

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AllMusic Review by

Handel's Samson, with an adapted text by John Milton, was among the most popular of his big oratorios in the composer's day, and Handel revived and revised it several times. Nowadays, though, it is not often performed or recorded. There are several reasons for this, including the work's length (nearly three and a half hours in the original 1743 version, performed here: Handel cut it for subsequent performances), a good deal of uncertainty as to how it was supposed to sound, and the odd mixture of oratorio and opera, with heroic arias for the lead character that really don't lead anywhere. This reading by the Dunedin Consort under John Butt makes a good case for the 1743 version and generally manages to put across why the oratorio was so successful. Butt uses a good-sized chorus, augmented on the top line by a group of boy sopranos, and with this, he brings out the contrasts Handel built into the work. The music consists of sections with big, quintessentially Handelian arias and choruses, broken up with stretches of recitatives and quieter arias that reflect on the figure of Samson, the warrior of the "living God." Butt and the Dunedin Consort keep things moving and can move into and out of an operatic mode as needed. The soloists are uniformly strong: Samson's "Total eclipse!" (evocative of Milton's own blindness) and the soprano's "Let the bright seraphim," sung by veteran Mary Bevan, could become standard readings. The momentum holds up over the entire long version: the album is well recorded by Linn in an appropriate London church, and in general, this is both an important and an enjoyable Handel recording.

Track Listing - Disc 1

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
Samson, HWV 57
1 03:28 Amazon
2 01:36 Amazon
3 02:29 Amazon
4 00:33 Amazon
5 02:04 Amazon
6 04:06 Amazon
7 00:29 Amazon
8 02:52 Amazon
9 02:32 Amazon
10 00:29 Amazon
11 00:49 Amazon
12 04:53 Amazon
13 00:48 Amazon
14 03:38 Amazon
15 03:00 Amazon
16 04:03 Amazon
17 01:17 Amazon
18 03:10 Amazon
19 01:57 Amazon
20 00:31 Amazon
21 00:59 Amazon
22 00:13 Amazon
23 02:28 Amazon
24 01:15 Amazon
25 04:26 Amazon
26 01:40 Amazon
27 01:02 Amazon
28 04:39 Amazon
29 00:22 Amazon
30 02:27 Amazon
31 01:42 Amazon
32 01:28 Amazon
33 02:09 Amazon
34 03:01 Amazon
35 02:32 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
Samson, HWV 57
1 01:24 Amazon
2 03:06 Amazon
3 00:31 Amazon
4 07:53 Amazon
5 03:23 Amazon
6 07:13 Amazon
7 00:59 Amazon
8 02:47 Amazon
9 00:30 Amazon
10 04:25 Amazon
11 01:11 Amazon
12 03:05 Amazon
13 01:11 Amazon
14 01:34 Amazon
15 01:39 Amazon
16 00:20 Amazon
17 03:59 Amazon
18 00:21 Amazon
19 02:34 Amazon
20 01:54 Amazon
21 05:44 Amazon
22 00:11 Amazon
23 02:55 Amazon
24 00:52 Amazon
25 02:18 Amazon
26 00:51 Amazon
27 03:23 Amazon
28 00:16 Amazon
29 04:06 Amazon
30 02:04 Amazon
31 03:04 Amazon

Track Listing - Disc 3

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time Stream
Samson, HWV 57
1 01:38 Amazon
2 03:22 Amazon
3 00:51 Amazon
4 02:41 Amazon
5 02:19 Amazon
6 00:31 Amazon
7 04:43 Amazon
8 00:32 Amazon
9 02:21 Amazon
10 00:29 Amazon
11 03:45 Amazon
12 00:49 Amazon
13 03:44 Amazon
14 00:17 Amazon
15 00:19 Amazon
16 00:05 Amazon
17 01:12 Amazon
18 00:48 Amazon
19 03:48 Amazon
20 03:43 Amazon
21 01:44 Amazon
22 05:39 Amazon
23 01:04 Amazon
24 02:58 Amazon
25 03:09 Amazon
blue highlight denotes track pick