BBC Music Magazine

Dramatic sweep and top talent make Handel soar

This festival recording of Judas Maccabaeus might well be the new benchmark, says Berta Joncus


Handel Judas Maccabaeus, HWV 63

Deanna Breiwick (soprano), Sophie Harmsen (mezzosopra­no), Owen Willetts (counterten­or), João Fernandes (bass); NDR Chor; Festspielo­rchester Göttingen/ Laurence Cummings

Accent ACC 26410 137:00 mins (2 discs)

This is one of the best Judas Maccabaeus performanc­es ever. As artistic director of the festival where this recording was made, Laurence Cummings brought together top soloists, band and choir, all of whom blaze forth in this masterpiec­e. If only the oratorio weren’t such rank propaganda! In the spring of 1746, the Duke of Cumberland committed extensive war crimes in the process of crushing the Jacobite rebellion; Judas Maccabaeus celebrates Cumberland’s ‘triumph’ by showing its titular hero uniting the splintered Jewish nation to exterminat­e an ungodly enemy from within.

Under ★andel’s pen, the plot’s mix of individual with collective perspectiv­es becomes a sweeping drama. Many-hued solo laments beguile the ear, brusque solo-chorus exchanges dial up tension, and

No choir has done justice to Handel’s writing like the NDR

counterpoi­nt such as the choir’s double fugue in ‘We never, never, will bow down’ signpost true faith. The scoring, as when the drum and trumpet are withheld until Part II (‘Sound an alarm’), is pure genius.

Cummings and his performers vivify all these moments, and many more. To my ear, no choir has done justice to the intricacy of ★andel’s writing like the NDR Chor does. Incisive, sensitive and saturated with colour, the choir’s sound moves effortless­ly between intentiona­lly nasty and utterly gorgeous. Cummings fuses choir with band, whipping both into a frenzy. Just as tensions reach a breaking point, he steps back to let a soloist re-calibrate the mood. Among the fine talent, Deanna Breiwick stands out: her lyricism soothes even when she sings of suffering. ★owever vile its occasion, ★andel’s work is among his most brilliant, and Cummings does it full justice. PERFORMANC­E ★★★★★ RECORDING ★★★★★

Hear extracts from this recording and the rest of this month’s choices on the BBC Music Magazine website at

 ??  ?? Sensitive voices: the NDR Chor is effortless­ly good
Sensitive voices: the NDR Chor is effortless­ly good
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