Nicholas McGegan

Händel: Solomon

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Solomon, one of Handel's most compelling oratorios, has been well served on disc, and Nicholas McGegan's version on Carus makes a strong addition. The recording was made at a live performance at the Frauenkirche, Dresden, and that circumstance is one of the few drawbacks of the release. The sound is fine for a live performance, but there is some sense of distance between the listener and the performers, much like there would be in, well, a live performance. The sound of the singers and instrumentalists doesn't have quite the fullness and presence and depth that some recordings create. Again, it's not a major distraction, but it makes it hard to put more effectively engineered versions out of mind, particularly conductor Daniel Reuss' outstanding version on Harmonia Mundi.

McGegan's interpretation is solid, if somewhat conventional, without quite igniting the spark that can make the oratorio radiate joy and warmth and sensuality. As an example, the chorus that closes the first section, describing Solomon's marriage, "May no rash intruder disturb their soft hours," can seethe with an erotic charge, but here sounds somewhat polite and perfunctory. All the performers are first rate; the Winchester Cathedral Choir and FestspielOrchester sing and play with vigor and a high level of energy. The soloists are in strong voice. Countertenor Tim Mead is a convincing Solomon, singing with warmth and full, commanding tone. Sopranos Dominique Labelle as Solomon's Queen and the First Harlot, and Claron McFadden as the Queen of Sheba and the Second Harlot bring voices of shining purity to their roles. Labelle is particularly moving as the First Harlot, and her passionate entreaty to Solomon and her ecstatic response to his judgment are among the highlights of the album. The men, tenor Michael Slattery and bass Roderick Williams as the Levite, also deliver strong supporting performances. McGegan's Solomon may not rise to the head of the pack in its intensity and heat, but it's a solid and elegant performance.

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