HANDEL: The Triumph of Time & Truth – Sophie Bevan (Beauty)/ Mary Bevan (Deceit)/ Tim Meade (Counsel/Truth)/ Ed Lyon (Pleasure)/ William Berger (Time)/ Ludus Baroque/ Richard Neville-Trowle – Delphian DCD34135 (2 CDs), TT: 2:34:43 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:

I will direct you to my review of the “original” of this work in the Emmanuelle Haïm recording found on Virgin Classics from 2007 for a summary of the rather odd moralistic plot.

This is the version that was compiled in English for a Covent Garden performance in 1757 only two years before the composer’s death. He had previously revised and expanded it for England in 1737, now in three sections instead of two and with five additional choruses, reflecting the new-style oratorio that Handel had created and that English audiences expected. The Italian title remained with the addition of “truth” instead of “enlightenment.” There have been all sorts of speculations about why Handel decided to revisit this, his very first oratorio, at this point in time. No one really knows for sure, except that it had proved a wealth of ideas as he went to this well more than 30 times during his career. This time the changes, based on the 1737 version, were far more radical, the piece being provided with a new English libretto by Thomas Morrell, who had already furnished Handel with five oratorio librettos. The Triumph of Time and Truth added five arias and now totaled eleven choruses. The composer was in terrible health at this time—even the English papers astoundingly making fun of him in cartoons—and was hardly capable of composing anything new. Therefore most of the additions were pilfered from existing scores.

The result, though a hodgepodge musically, are marvelous. The 1757 version has often be called a distant cousin of inferior breeding compared to the wonderful, more Catholic, and really more textually consistent original composition. But honestly, as the librettos in most Handel compositions are quite secondary to the music anyway, I find this experience a quality one in every way. The singing, if not quite to the exalted level of Natalie Dessay and Pavol Breslik on the Virgin issue, is still spectacular, and Richard Neville-Towle guides his forces in a manner as energetic and joyous as Haïm. Even though the original ends with Beauty mystically contemplating eternity in a still and almost silent denouement, her sermon from First Corinthians on faith, hope and love followed by a choral Hallelujah doesn’t really spoil anything in the final version. The sound is clear and vibrant, and it is great to have a recording of each version with such terrific performances.

—Steven Ritter