Semele

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Handel
Semele – A musical theatrical entertainment in three acts

Semele – Rosemary Joshua
Juno / Ino – Hilary Summers
Jupiter / Apollo – Richard Craft
Cadmus / Somnus – Brindley Sherratt
Athamas – Stephen Wallace
Iris – Gail Pearson

Chorus and Orchestra of Early Opera Company
Christian Curnyn (harpsichord)

Recorded 16-20 April 2007 in All Saints’ Church, East Finchley, London


Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: December 2007
CD No: CHANDOS CHAN 0745
(3 CDs)
Duration: 2 hours 50 minutes

 

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I have previously reviewed the Early Opera Company’s “Semele” as given, somewhat abridged, at Cadogan Hall in London. This made-before studio recording from Chandos has three different singers from that event. With CDs we are spared the distracting antics displayed by some characters while others are singing.

The soloists who sang in the concert performance differ little in this performance. Hilary Summers is again warm and smooth in vocal production, with plush contralto lower register. Try ‘But hark! the heav’nly sphere’. She is always worth listening to. Like Summers, Brindley Sherratt sings two roles, his dark-hued bass well controlled, particularly as the sleep-loving Somnus. The third singer who appeared at Cadogan Hall is Stephen Wallace. He sounds better here in front of a microphone, although a slightly reverberant recording partly covers his low notes. He is an experienced Handelian, whose contribution here is a pleasing one.

Of the three whom I did not hear at Cadogan Hall, Rosemary Joshua has pride of place. Her fresh limpid tone has its own attraction, whether in slow arias or in those magnificent displays of elaborate vocal floridity, such as ‘Endless pleasure’ and ‘Myself I shall adore’. Neat trills deserve appreciation, as does her agility in fioitura, but also her shaping of an uninterrupted line. She also well captures the flightiness of the deluded Semele. She has made too few recordings. Perhaps Chandos will grant her a recital.

Gail Pearson’s clear-toned Iris is a good foil for Summers. Her ‘There, from mortal cares’ is lightly sung, although some words in lower lines are partially covered by the reverberation. The one non-British singer is American tenor Richard Croft. He easily encompasses the divisions in ‘Ah, take heed’ without aspirating and strongly conveys Jupiter’s warning to Semele. In ‘Where’er you walk’, in which he is set too far back, he and the orchestra plod somewhat: he is less smooth than was Ed Lyon in the concert. Elsewhere, Croft, without the most alluring of voices, makes a positive Jupiter.

Christian Curnyn and his orchestra of ‘period’ instruments give good support. He opts for Handel’s recitative-setting of Juno’s ‘Behold in this mirror’ rather than the aria version which the composer replaced. The original aria can be heard on the DG recording under John Nelson, sung by Marilyn Horne. Some may find the Chandos recording, made in a church, to be warm, but I should have liked a drier sound for both singers and players, although it is not one in which the voices swim around without focus. The cuts made in the concert are not made here, the 3 CDs running for 35 minutes longer than the Cadogan Hall rendition.

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