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Handel: Theodora / McCreesh, Gritton, Bickley, Blaze, et al

Album Summary

>Handel, George Frideric : Theodora
Performers Conductor Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

"...For one of the better cast line-ups, for superior interpretation, for greatest textual fullness, and for overall stylistic and musical satisfaction, it is pretty clearly McCreesh on points...Whatever your choice, this magnificent baroque sacred drama should not be missed. Not to know 'Theodora' is not to know Handel at his most noble and humane." -Barker, ARG

Gramophone Classical Music Guide
Theodora, Handel's penultimate oratorio, was a failure in his own time. Until relatively recently it remained a rarity, but lately has come to be recognised as a masterpiece, although quite different in mood and treatment from most of his more familiar oratorios. This recording encourages attentive listening to its subtleties, because it's done with such affection, care and refinement. There's nothing sensational about it, no singer who overwhelms you with brilliance or virtuosity.

But all the solo music is finely sung. Theodora herself is taken by Susan Gritton, who's won golden opinions recently, and will win more here for a great deal of lovely, clear and musicianly singing, with a quiet seriousness and unaffected intensity that are ideally suited to the role. Her presence at the centre of the tragic drama elevates it as a whole.

Irene, her fellow Christian, is sung with scarcely less distinction by Susan Bickley, coolly expressive in most of her music, more passionate in 'Defend her Heaven' in Act 2, a shapely performance with subtleties of timing. Didymus, originally a castrato role (very rare in oratorios), is sung by Robin Blaze, whose focused, even-toned countertenor - not a hint of the traditional hoot - serves well: this is fluent singing, with no great depth of tone, but very steady and controlled, with the detail precisely placed. As Septimius, Paul Agnew is in good voice, firm and full in tone, phrasing the music elegantly (although the Act 3 air is unconvincing, too bouncy and cheerful for the situation). Lastly, there's Neal Davies as the Roman ruler, Valens, whose excellent singing makes as persuasive a case as can be imagined for torturing Christians - his is a pleasantly grainy voice, with considerable warmth and fullness of tone, well suited to a figure repre- senting authority, and he despatches the divisions with assurance.

Ornamentation is appropriate and tasteful, and McCreesh takes the recitative at a natural and relaxed pace. His main contribution, however, is in the well-sprung rhythms he draws from his Gabrieli singers and players, in the way he allows the lines to breathe, and in the sense of purpose and direction he imparts to the bass line. Add to this a keen sense of the right pace for each number, and you've the recipe for an outstanding reading of this noble work.



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Works Details

>Handel, George Frideric : Theodora
  • Performers: Paul Agnew; Susan Gritton (Soprano); Neal Davies (Bass-Baritone); Robin Blaze (Countertenor); Susan Bickley (Mezzo Soprano); Angus Smith (Chant)
  • Conductor: Paul McCreesh
  • Ensemble: Gabrieli Consort & Players
  • Running Time: 3 min. 3 sec.
  • Period Time: Baroque
  • Form: Cantata/Oratorio
  • Written: 1749