Dra­matic sweep and top tal­ent make Han­del soar

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

BBC Music Magazine - - Reviews -

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 www.clas­si­cal-mu­sic.com

Sen­si­tive voices: the NDR Chor is ef­fort­lessly good

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