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Briefly Noted: Christie's 'Belshazzar'

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Handel, Belshazzar, Les Arts Florissants, W. Christie

(released on November 12, 2013)
AF001 | 157'05"
Joining the Academy of Ancient Music in the trend towards private recording labels, Les Arts Florissants has released this new 3-CD set of Handel's oratorio Belshazzar as the first under its personal label. William Christie's choice of the inaugural work for the series is shrewd: as noted of this rare live performance, it is one of Handel's great overlooked works. In a review of a staged version at the Aix-en-Provence Festival, with René Jacobs and Berlin's Akademie für Alte Musik, I noted the lack of a front-runner for favorite recording of this excellent work, a need that William Christie's first recording of it fills. After some complaints I have had about the English pronunciation of some of Christie's favorite singers, he has gone with all English speakers in this recording, with beautiful results. Rosemary Joshua reprises the role of Nitocris from that Aix-en-Provence performance, with some of the same concerns but an overall pleasing sound. Tenor Allan Clayton is a noble Belshazzar, with a full but not over-strident sound, matched by Caitlin Hulcup, dignified of tone as Cyrus, while Jonathan Lemalu is robust but slightly unpolished as Gobrias. Countertenor Iestyn Davies is an exceptionally pretty Daniel, making the inclusion of the prophet's Lament not thus, which Handel had cut from the score, one of the high points of this performance. The recitatives are pleasingly accompanied by a mixture of harpsichord and organ (Béatrice Martin), cello (David Simpson), and theorbo (Brian Feehan), a choice that makes them light, airy, and varied, not just something to be waited through until the aria.

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