HANDEL: Saul – Rosemary Joshua (Michal)/ Emma Bell (Merab)/ Lawrence Zazzo (David)/ Jeremy Ovenden (Jonathan)/ Michael Slattery (High Priest, Witch of Endor)/ Finnur Bjarnason (Amalekite)/ Henry Waddington (Doeg, Samuel)/ Gidon Saks (Saul)/ RIAS Chamber Choir/ Concerto Koln/ Rene Jacobs, conductor
Messiah (complete) – Kerstin Avemo, soprano/ Patricia Bardon, alto/ Lawrence Zazzo, countertenor/ Kobie van Rensburg, tenor/ Neal Davies, bass/ Choir of Clare College/ Freiburger Barockorchester/ Rene Jacobs, conductor – Harmonia mundi HMX 2908280.83 (4 discs), 288:00 ****:
This is yet another set from the great Harmonia mundi repackaging project in honor of the composer’s death anniversary (five multi-CD sets in all), this time featuring oratorios, one essential and one very good. For the latter you can see my earlier review of the SACD incarnation here a performance I felt lacked some of the requisite spirituality needed in this work, but yet refreshingly full of those Jacobs touches that seem to always go against the grain of what we usually consider period performances. In others words, the man really thinks things through and always surprises us.
Saul, on the other hand, is a very special recording indeed, and of the twelve-odd recordings on the market, stands a good chance of being considered a number one pick. Only the eighteen year-old Gardiner recording gives it a run for the money in my opinion. Both chief sopranos here are excellent, the counter-tenor of Lawrence Zazzo far more masculine than those found in Gardiner, and Gidon Saks is a highly dramatic Saul. Jacobs keeps the spirited proceedings moving at an acceptable pace, but knows when to lay back and let the emotion play out as well. The sound is outstanding, though it is very good on the Philips recording also. Get both. But if you need a modern and interesting Messiah in your collection too, this special full-text edition is certainly worth your consideration.
— Steven Ritter