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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Handel: Solomon

04/07/2013 1:00 pm
04/07/2013 4:30 pm


Sunday Afternoon at the Opera host Keith Brown writes:

"To my mind Solomon is probably the most magnificent...of all the Handel oratorios..." So wrote conductor John Eliot Gardiner about his historically-informed recorded interpretion of the oratorio for the PHILIPS label. I broadcast his period instrument Solomon on vinyl discs way back on Sunday, May 4, 1986. You get to hear it again today in its 2006 compact disc release in the PHILIPS "Digital Classics" line.

The original recording was made in London following Gardiner's performances of Solomon at the 1984 Gottingen Festival of Baroque music in Germany. Gardiner leads the period instrumental ensemble he founded, the English Baroque Soloists, with the Monteverdi Choir and a lineup of vocal soloists that included English soprano Carolyn Watkinson as the Hebrew King Solomon, soprano Nancy Argenta as Solomon's Queen and tenor Anthony Rolfe Johnson as Zadok the Priest.

Handel's orchestral scoring for Solomon is more colorful than that for Messiah. In fact, Messiah lacks the sharp delineation of character to be found in the vocal parts for the Queen of Sheba and the two harlots, so typical of Handel's Italian operas. The dramatic situation of the quarrel over the infant, with the king's surprising judgement, was irresistible to Handel's operatic imagination. Beyond that, the overall effect of the oratorio is that of a celebration in music of Hanoverian England, also known as the Augustan Age of the mid eighteenth century. (Solomon premiered at Covent Garden in 1749. )

I value historical authenticity, yet on Sunday April 2, 1989 I broadcast a set of early stereo LP's of Sir Thomas Beecham's modernized rescoring of Solomon, with Beecham leading his own Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Beecham Choral Society.