Handel's Alexander's Feast is a long two-part ode set to an adapted John Dryden poem about the power of music. It barely fits on one CD, and then only with the omission of a short associated concerto. Yet it's shorter than a full-length oratorio, and the conjunction of Handel's music and Dryden's poetry is singularly attractive. The work ought to be at the top rank of Handel hits, but for the present it's perhaps a notch below that. There are plenty of recordings of the work by big English names, and it's questionable how much of a market there is for this slightly German-accented version from the Junge Kantorei and Frankfurt Baroque Orchestra under Joachim Carlos Martini. Yet actually the English diction from this all-German group is strong enough that an anglophone listener can mostly avoid consulting the online texts (which also include a German translation). And the Junge Kantorei, from central Germany (they are not specifically youthful), is a regional choir with church origins that delivers a clear, transcendent sound in the later sections of the works, which ascends toward calm rather than a slam-bang finale. The Naxos label has uncovered any number of these German choirs and shows no signs of exhausting the source. The soloists are not on a par with the athleticism of the leading Handelian singers, but soprano Gerlinde Sämann, has an affecting tone. The bottom line is that there are stronger recordings of Alexander's Feast out there, but this one has an X factor, connected with the musicians' direct response to what they are singing and playing, that makes it worth your time.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Alexander's Feast, HWV 75|