Handel: Joshua

Kenneth Tarver Joshua, Tobias Berndt Caleb, Renata Pokupić Othniel, Anna Dennis Achsah, Joachim Duske Angel, NDR Chor, FestspielOrchester Göttingen, Laurence Cummings
115′ (2 CDs)
Accent ACC 26403

I’m not sure if the Handel operas performed at the Göttingen International Handel Festival (by the FestspielOrchester Göttingen under Lawrence Cummings) are recorded live as a matter of course each year, but I seem to have heard several such offerings and they are, without exception, a true joy from start to finish. I can’t recall if the other discs follow the same format, but I felt that the inclusion of snippets of applause in this recording of Joshua only added to the feeling of actually being at the opera. With the exception of Anna Dennis, I was unfamiliar with the soloists, and was pleasantly surprised by the uniform quality but varied timbre of their voices. This said, I did find Renata Pokupić‘s rather heavy vibrato (I know, so “early music” but bear with me) a little static on her first recitative and aria. As the opera progressed, however, this became less of a problem.

First performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, on March 9th, 1748, Joshua was one of several oratorios composed by Handel to celebrate the victory of the Hanoverian dynasty over the Jacobites. As such, it focuses on the militaristic might of the mighty leader, Joshua, but while it undoubtedly was a commentary on the political situation of its time, the libretto (possibly by Thomas Morell) sticks to the biblical account but adds in a love story. The slightly whimsical style of Dr Wolfgang Sandberger’s booklet notes belie excellent scholarship and add to the sense of a well-informed production.

The oratorio contains many lovely and well-known moments, including the rousing ‘See, the conqu’ring hero comes!’. As always, Cummings’s pacing of the music is so incredibly well-judged that both narrative and music flow unimpeded. A real joy both in terms of content and interpretation.

Violet Greene