HANDEL: Messiah (Choruses) (Bratislava City Chorus/ Capella Istropolitana/ Jaroslav Krecek) (Naxos: 8.550317)
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George Frideric Handel (1685. 1759)
Chorus Excerpts from Messiah GeorgeFrideric Handel was born in Halle in 1685. His elderly father, barber-surgeonto the Duke of Saxe-Weissenfels, entertained natural prejudices against thechoice of music as a profession for his young son, the second child of hissecond wife, and Handel enjoyed an education that led him, after his father'sdeath, to a brief period of study at the University of Halle in 1702. Thefollowing year he moved to Hamburg, joining the opera there, at first as astring-player, then as harpsichordist and composer. Success in Italian opera inHamburg coupled with the doubtful musical prospects the city offered, persuadedHandel to try his fortune in Italy, where he spent the years between 1706 and 1710,confirming his generally Italianate style of composition in works for thetheatre, the church and private entertainment.
In 1710, rejecting an offer from theruler of Innsbruck, Handel accepted the position of Kapellmeister to theElector of Hanover, the future King George I of England, and immediately tookleave of absence for the staging of his opera Rinaldo in London, where Italianopera was gradually gaining a place. Two years later he was back in London forgood, concerned in particular with the composition, management and presentationof Italian opera. During the following thirty years he wrote nearly fortyItalian operas for the London stage, to which he devoted a considerable part ofhis working life.
Early oratorio may be seen as a by-productof opera as it developed at the turn of the 16th century in Italy. England waslate in its grudging acceptance of opera and had shown little interest inoratorio, as it had developed in other countries during the 17th century.
Handel had written Italian oratorio in Rome. His first attempt at the new formof English oratorio came in 1732 with his setting of an adaptation of Racine'sbiblical drama Esther, described by one hostile critic as a "ReligiousFarce", and certainly a very profitable one to its composer. Englishoratorio combined the musical delights of Italian opera, with a text in Englishand a religious subject that might appeal to the Protestant conscience. Sinceoratorio was not staged, there was also a considerable saving in the cost ofproduction.
Of all English oratorios Handel's Messiah
has always been the most overwhelmingly popular. It is the least theatrical ofall his oratorios and the most purely sacred in its choice of subject, the Messiah,a compendious version of the coming of Christ, His death and resurrection. Thetext, by Charles Jennens, drew extensively on the Authorized Version of theBible, and an additional attraction has always been the large number ofchoruses included, a larger number than in any other of Handel's oratorios.
was written with Handel's usual speed in 1741 for performance in Dublin, someof it rehearsed briefly by inadequate singers in Chester, as he made his way toHolyhead to embark for the voyage. The first performance was given at the NewMusic Hall in Fish-amble Street, Dublin, on 13th April, 1742, in aid ofcharity. The first London performance took place in Lent 1743 at Covent Garden,but the work failed to please, in part because of reservations that some heldabout the suitability of such a sacred subject for a theatre. Messiah onlyachieved its lasting success after performances in 1750 in aid of the FoundlingHospital, established ten years earlier by Captain Thomas Coram. At his deathin 1759 Handel left a fair copy of the score and all parts to the Hospital, aninstitution that continued to benefit from annual performances of the work.
Messiah opens with an Overture in theFrench style. The first part of the oratorio leads from prophecy of the comingof the Messiah, celebrated by the chorus "And the glory of the Lord shallbe revealed", to His birth, in the misplaced accentuation of "Forunto us a Child is born", adapted from one of Handel's Italian operas, aswere certain other elements in the new work. According to common practice, Handelre-used parts of his own earlier compositions here as elsewhere, althoughborrowings from other composers in Messiah are relatively rare.
The first part of Messiah, whichends with the chorus "His yoke is easy, His burthen is light",includes a Pastoral Symphony, an instrumental interlude that continues theChristmas tradition of using the rhythm of a traditional Sicilian shepherddance to recall the biblical narrative, "There were shepherds abiding inthe field..." Handel's original title for the movement was"Pifa", a reference to the piffaro, the shepherd bagpipes hereimitated. The second part of the oratorio opens with the chorus "Beholdthe lamb of God", and takes the story through Christ's suffering and deathto the glory of the Resurrection, celebrated in the famous Hallelujah Chorus,with its brilliant use of the trumpet, the only instrument, apart from stringsand keyboard instruments, included in the first version of the score forDublin.
The third part of the oratorio, whichopens with the well known aria "I know that my Redeemer liveth",celebrates victory over death, ending with "Worthy is the lamb that wasslain", which moves directly into the final impressive Amen chorus thatends the work.
Bratislava City Choir
The Bratislava Chamber Choir was formedin 1971 from former members of various university choirs. Eight years later ittook the name of the Bratislava City Choir, in recognition of its uniqueposition in the cultural life of the Slovakian capital, with its long musicaltraditions. The choir has enjoyed the services of conductors of greatdistinction during the twenty years it has been in existence and since 1977 hasbeen under the direction of Ladislav Holasek, the chorus master of the SlovakNational Opera. The choir has a busy schedule at home, performing regularly atthe annual Bratislava Music Festival and with the major orchestras of Slovakia.
Abroad the choir has taken part in a number of international competitionsthroughout Europe, from Llangollen to Greece, winning many awards.
The Capella Istropolitana was founded in1983 by members of the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra, at first as a chamberorchestra and then as an orchestra large enough to tackle the standardclassical repertoire. Based in Bratislava, its name drawn from the ancient namestill preserved in the Academia Istropolitana, the orchestra works in therecording studio and undertakes frequent tours throughout Europe. Recordings bythe orchestra on the Naxos label include The Best of Baroque Music, Bach'sBrandenburg Concertos, fifteen each of Mozart's and Haydn's symphonies as wellas works by Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann.
The Czech conductor and composer JaroslavKr(e)chek was born in southern Bohemia in 1939 and studied composition andconducting at the Prague Conservatory .In 1962 he moved to Pilsen as aconductor and radio producer and in 1967 returned to Prague to work as arecording supervisor for Supraphon. In the capital he founded the ChoreaBohemica ensemble and in 1975 the chamber orchestra Musica Bohemica. InCzechoslovakia he is well known for his arrangements of Bohemian folk music,while his electro-acoustic opera Raab was awarded first prize at theInternational Composer's Competition in Geneva. He is the artistic leader ofCapella Istropolitana.