Handel from Berlin: Psalms in near-perfect performances

Handel from Berlin: Psalms in near-perfect performances

Opening in a blaze of raw Handelian energy, this is a disc for the ages. Three psalms: Dixit Dominus, Laudate pueri, Nisi Dominus, all magnificently shaped by Justin Doyle with a simply superb line-up of soloists.

Handel led in Rome for 1707 to 1710. We hear here the young Handel, bursting with endless creativity, honoured in performances of equal verve. My experiences of the Akademie für Alte Musik, Berlin

It is possible the Dixit Dominus, HWV232 (Psalm 109), was performed as part of the Vespers (timely, as I have just been reviewing the new PaTRAM choir version of Rachmaninov's All-Night Vigil on Chandos for another publication - that's a disc that, in performance and recording quality, is equal to today's Harmonia Mundi release). Here's the opening of Handel's Dixit, that blaze of pure energy I referred to:

... and to give you a taste of the excellence of the soloists, listen to Johanna Winkel's beautiful and agile soprano voice, so pure, in the “Tecem principium in die virtutis”:

The choir is even inch as superb as the soloists: listener to the sopranos in this, the fifth movement (“Tu es sacerdos in aeternum’), and how there is zero sense of strain:

The power of the “Dominus a dextris tuis,” which showcases all five soloists plus choir, is remarkable here:

The astonishing final choral “Gloria Patri” is the clear climax of the work, a masterclass in exuberant choral writing, rhythms perfectly sprung, he choir so accurate in the fugal sections - almost superhumanly so. As the two longest movements the first and last act as 'pillars' that contain the shorter but no less significant movements between them:

The Nisi Dominus, HWV 239 (Psalm 126) opens in a very different way from the Dixit Dominus: the psalm tone is stated very clearly, giving this movement a more archaic feel:

Listen to the purity of Alex Potter's voice in the third movement:

This is a slip of a piece: the arias for soloists are around a mono ear, but each its own microcosm. The finale, “Gloria Patri,” though, erupts in a blaze of light before some echt-Handelian counterpoint:

Handel cuts down remarkably on his soloists for the final piece, Laudate pueri, HWV 237 (Psalm 112); but how lucky are we that the soloist is Carolyn Sampson, in her best voice, to boot. Sampson is absolutely radiant here. Listen to the “Sit nomen Domini” where at one point there is a trio for Sampson and two oboes, a moment of magic. And how powerful the oboe dissonances against the continuo in the coda:

The contrast between the super-jaunty “Excelsus super omnes” (Sampson) and the slow-moving chorus “Quis sicut Dominus” is extreme:

The “Laudate pueri” is the perfect end to the disc: Sampson's voice is gloriously free in the final “Gloria Patri,” and how the choir relishes their solid shouts of “Gloria” agains the floridity of the soprano line:

A simply phenomenal release, the perfect tribute to Handel's unfailing genius. The recording cannot be better: everything is in perfectly proportion.

The disc may be purchased from Amazon here.

Dixit Dominus (Psalm 109) HWV 232 | IDAGIO
Listen to George Frideric Handel’s Dixit Dominus (Psalm 109) HWV 232, performed by Justin Doyle, Johanna Winkel, Viktoria Wilson, Alex Potter, Hugo Hymas, Andreas Wolf, Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin, RIAS Kammerchor. Discover and compare alternative recordings.