Advent Calendar Day 7: Comfort Ye / Ev’ry Valley – Handel

Well, now, I could hardly have a ‘prepare ye the way of the Lord / make His path straight’ theme and not include Handel, now could I?  I’m pretty sure there is a law about that sort of thing.

The trick with this piece is, of course, that so many people have sung it that it’s really difficult to pick a favourite recording of it.  And I really can’t have Ian Bostridge every year.  Well, I mean, I could, but it seems like cheating…

So this year, I’ve found a rather delightful recording by Kurt Streit.  There are some flaws in the recording (for some reason, it’s squished and compressed, and someone cut a bunch of the accompaniment – why would you DO that?), but there are really none in his performance.  I love the effortlessness with which he sings, and how much joy he brings to the performance – it’s absolutely contagious, and I’d basically follow him anywhere if he sang at me like that.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

PS – OK, I simply cannot mention Handel’s Messiah without drawing your attention to this completely bonkers production, directed by Claus Guth.  It’s impeccably sung, but the staging is bizarre and includes interpretive dance, a sign language interpreter, and significantly more seductive intent than one usually finds in either ‘He Shall Feed his Flock’ or ‘How Beautiful Are the Feet’.  (And yes, it goes precisely where you think it does in the latter case.)

If you have a couple of hours to spare and have a taste for high-quality Baroque music made completely bizarre, I highly recommend this to your attention.

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Advent Calendar Day 17: Rejoice Greatly (Handel)

I know, I know, I’m really milking this Rejoice business now, aren’t I?  But you see, I went looking for a Magnificat, and then fell down an internet rabbit hole and found myself listening to Patricia Petibon singing Der Hölle Rache, as well as a whole lot of other entirely un-Adventy things, because she is an utterly addictive singer to watch, and then I remembered seeing a recording of a very young Patricia Petibon (with dark hair!) singing Rejoice Greatly, and *clearly* that had to be the next thing I posted here, because it’s gorgeous.

I love this aria, and I just adore the way Petibon sings it – she is so very expressive, with those huge eyes and wild hair, and I do find it hilarious when she goes all sopranolicious on those cadenzas.  I didn’t think that baroque ornaments normally went into the stratosphere like that, but that’s not going to stop her, and nor should it, because she sounds amazing.

Honestly, I can’t think of anything to add to this, except that you really should go and find more videos of Patricia Petibon singing.  I love her CDs – her choice of music is superb and diverse – but really, watching her sing is something else again.

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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Good Friday: He Was Despised and Rejected (Handel)

I actually sang Erbarme Dich, Mein Gott at this morning’s Good Friday service, and had every intention of posting it here.  But as I was sitting at my desk, writing about last night’s Maundy Thursday service in more detail, Mayhem, who shall henceforth be surnamed The Liturgy Cat, walked across my keyboard and somehow managed to switch on Handel’s Messiah.  This is impressive on two counts; first, I have no idea how she managed to start something playing in iTunes without, apparently, leaving the Firefox browser window, and second, I had no idea I even had a recording of The Messiah on my computer…

Anyway, The Liturgy Cat has spoken, so the Messiah we must have.  And for Good Friday, there can be only one choice.  Actually, that’s not true – there’s quite a bit of Good Friday stuff in The Messiah, but ever since I heard Bejun Mehta sing He Was Despised and Rejected, no other version can ever compete.  I’m afraid it’s spread across two videos, but it’s absolutely worth it to click on video number two, which is where Mehta demonstrates ornamentation so perfect that I and my alto friends can only swoon in envy.

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Advent Calendar Day 25: There Were Shepherds Abiding in the Fields (Handel)

Merry Christmas!  I thought it fitting to end Advent with another piece from Handel’s Messiah, and this recording is a fascinating one, dating from 1930.  Singing styles have changed quite a bit since then, and I think my personal preference is for a rather faster version of this recitative, but there is something rather special about listening to a voice that was recorded more than 80 years ago.

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Handel’s Messiah: Rejoice Greatly!

As anyone who has looked at the front page of this blog recently will know, I’m singing the soprano solos for a Sing Your Own Messiah production in a couple of weeks.  This is the first time I’ve sung a ‘set’ of solos for an oratorio or opera or anything really.  It’s also the first time I will have sung in a production of the Messiah, so I’m pretty excited about it on a lot of levels.

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