Advent Calendar Day 3: Ev’ry Valley (Handel)

This aria is pretty much a requirement for the first week of Advent.  For one thing, it’s from Handel’s Messiah, which is compulsory listening at this time of year, at least in my world.  For another, it’s one of the classic texts for the service of nine lessons and carols which we do at Wesley each year.  I always have a hard time in that service keeping still, because almost every text read is something I know music for.  (Actually, with more than a dozen years of church choir singing, I’m getting to be that way in an awful lot of services.  One really does wind up with an extensive knowledge of the King James translation, at least.)

Of course, the question is always which version of this aria to use, because everyone has done one.  I am usually unable to resist Ian Bostridge’s absolutely impeccable version – I love his lightness of touch with the coloratura, and also I have a serious musical crush on him, so there’s that, too.  Or there’s the version by Jon Vickers, which I have been told by wiser heads that I should not like, but I secretly do anyway.

But while I was trolling YouTube, listening to more versions of Ev’ry Valley than any sane person should have to endure, I came across this very cheerful and bouncy version sung by Juan Diego Florez, a Peruvian tenor, known for his bel canto roles, and I found it rather irresistible.  I suspect that a person of true musical refinement (i.e., not me) would prefer a somewhat more sedate pace for this aria, but it’s certainly fun hearing someone go at the coloratura like that and get it right.  Very exciting to listen to – you go, Juan!

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Advent Calendar Day 5 – Comfort Ye & Ev’ry Valley (G.F. Handel)

Today’s choice was easy and hard. It’s a piece that John L normally sings at our Advent Service, but tonight he is in country Victoria singing it for others. Which we can’t blame him for, since it’s a full performance of the Messiah, and who wouldn’t jump at the opportunity of all those lovely tenor solos?

Still, to me Advent isn’t Advent without The Record of John and Comfort Ye / Every Valley. It’s a requirement. I’ll be singing The Record of John tonight, so today is clearly the day for some Handel.

The hard part of this was that there were so many recordings on YouTube. Some were very good. Some were dreadful. Some were good, but not quite to my taste. None of them sounded at all like John L, who is the only person I’ve ever heard actually sing this piece of music. And most of them, to be frank, weren’t as good. I hadn’t appreciated how hard a piece it is to sing well until now.

In the end, I couldn’t find a recording I loved, but I did manage to find a classic. Jon Vickers is a heldentenor, which I think means heroic tenor of a Wagnerian type. It isn’t a type of voice I normally like, or one I would associate with Handel. On first listening I found it too heavy, and didn’t listen through to the end of the recitative. This was a mistake – the end is where it catches fire, and, my god, he can actually do all those runs in ‘Every Valley’ in a single breath! Fortunately, after listening to a dozen different recordings, and reading all over the internet about how awesomely well Vickers sings this piece, I decided I’d better listen all the way through and give it a proper try. I listened to the end of the recititative and the beginning of the aria and realised that it really was the only possible version I could use, at least in the absence of John L. I don’t think he would be insulted by this*. Vicker’s voice is full of energy and excitement and life, and it’s more subtle than I would have expected from the start of the recititative, and of course he doesn’t miss a note. The technique, as far as I can judge it (not far, alas) is perfect. It really is a beautiful piece of music and of singing.

Oh, who am I kidding? I didn’t love it at first hearing, but I have fallen for it since. Apparently my secondary theme (after awesome alto lines) in this Advent Calendar is going to be wonderful tenor soloists.

But why am I talking about this music when you could be listening to it? This video comes in two parts, one for the recititative and one for the aria.

* He was.  John does not approve of Vickers at all.