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CD Review

George Frideric Handel

  • German Arias
  • #1 "Künft'ger Zeiten eitler", HWV 202
  • #2 "Das zitternde Gänzen", HWV 203
  • #3 "Süsser blumen Ambraflöcken", HWV 204
  • #4 "Süsse Stille, sanfte Quelle", HWV 205
  • #5 "Singe Seele, Gott zum Preise", HV 206
  • #6 "Meine Seele hört im Sehen", HWV 207
  • #7 "Die ihr aus dunkeln Grüften", HWV 208
  • #8 "In den angenehmen", HWV 209
  • #9 "Flammende Rose, Zierde…", HWV 210
  • Sonata for Oboe & Continuo in F Major, Op. 1 #5, HWV 363a
  • Sonata for Oboe & Continuo in C minor, Op. 1 #8, HWV 366
  • Sonata for Oboe & Continuo #1 in B Flat Major, HWV 357
Carolyn Sampson, soprano
Alexandra Bellamy, oboe
Stephanie-Marie Degand, violin
Jonathan Cohen, cello
Lynda Sayce, theorbo
Robert King, harpsichord/chamber organ
The King's Consort
Recorded Menuhin Hall, Stoke d'Abernon, Surrey, 22-24 October 2006
Hyperion CDA67627 70:33
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German Arias Comparisons:
Dorothea Roschmann/Academy for Ancient Music Berlin – Harmonia Mundi (rec. 1998)
Ann Monoyios/Berlin Baroque Compagney – Capriccio (rec. 1995)

Ann Monoyios, Dorothea Roschmann and Carolyn Sampson have heavenly voices, so you can't go wrong with acquiring any of these three excellent releases. However, I do prefer Monoyios and would like to look at the poetic texts from Handel's good friend Barthold Heinrich Brockes to explain my preference.

Written by Brockes in 1721, the texts for Handel's German Arias are a satisfying tribute to the premise that God's greatness is to be found in nature. The texts are not in the exuberant or demonstrative categories, but present a very comforting picture of an intimate/loving God providing us an abundance of nature's glory. Enter Ann Monoyios with a youthful and innocent voice that gives full measure to the notion of sublime contentment. Her tone is not particularly strong, but it is a lovely voice that floats notes beautifully and with a rhythmic lift second to none.

Switch to Dorothea Roschmann and the intensity of the music is highlighted, abetted by slower tempos than on the Monoyios recording. Roschmann's voice is much more mature than Monoyios' with a depth of expression the latter singer could only imagine. Yet, I am not convinced that this greater maturity and depth yields any net gains except perhaps in the slowest and most reflective arias such as HWV 202. Put another way, the matching of voice, music and text doesn't always find the advantages to reside with the superior vocalist.

With Carolyn Sampson's new version of the German Arias, we find a performance that takes a middle ground between Roschmann and Monoyios. Sampson's voice is more youthful than Roschmann's, not as innocent as Monoyios'. Sampson's depth of expression is admirable, and she can fairly be considered a superb alternative to the other two vocalists. As for sonics, both the Sampson and Roschmann recordings have an immediate presence not found in the Monoyios release. Yet, the Monoyios sonics are very appealing and comfortable.

Sticking with Monoyios for the moment, her most impressive performance is found in HWV 203 where her light and innocent tone perfectly matches a text emphasizing how the world's oceans, rivers and streams refresh the land. Definitely a transcendent interpretation that far surpasses what Roschmann and Sampson deliver.

A couple of reviews I have read of these recordings make the case that the couplings could well be the determining factor in which version to acquire. I disagree and find the couplings "filler" material. Further, the differences in performing style among the three recordings of the German Arias are easily substantial enough to stand on their own in the acquisition decision-making process.

However, let's spend some time on the couplings where the new Hyperion release is at a distinct disadvantage. First, The couplings of three oboe sonatas do not present the degree of variety found on the other two releases; the Monoyios offers a sonata for flute and one for oboe as well as an Allegro for Violin and Continuo, while the Roschmann gives us two Telemann quartets, one featuring the oboe and the other the cello. Second, Alexandra Bellamy's oboe tone on the Hyperion release is rather abrasive/piercing and too far forward in the instrumental mix; these are not endearing qualities that make the best case for the oboe's universal appeal.

Don's Conclusions: As I mentioned earlier, each of the three recordings is a winner and well worth your consideration. My preference for Ann Monoyios is likely highly subjective, and I certainly find many rewards from the other two sopranos. As it happens, each vocalist offers a different style that is highly enjoyable, and I have no problem in recommending purchase of all three discs. There is a brand new release of the German Arias on the Chandos label that features the veteran soprano Julianne Baird; the disc's title is "Flaming Rose". I have not heard this new one but am confident that it will be competitive with the Hyperion and other recordings.

Now I have to relate some information that saddens, even sickens me to think of. My champion of Handel's music on period instruments, the conductor and keyboardist Robert King, will not be associated any longer with Hyperion records for at least a few years. Mr. King was recently convicted of sexual abuse of minors and will serve almost 4 years in prison. King founded the King's Consort in 1980 and has made about 100 records for Hyperion. For now, Hyperion intends to keep these recordings in its inventory, but the decision could change in a flash if strong pressure is applied by child advocacy and other groups. The whole situation is quite depressing in that a sensational musical talent has been undone by a major psychological illness; even worse, innocent children have been damaged in a way that they will probably never fully recover from. The world turns, but not always for the best.

Copyright © 2007, Don Satz