Handel, Les Arts Florissants , William Christie - Belshazzar

Published Monday 20th January 2014
Handel, Les Arts Florissants , William Christie - Belshazzar
Handel, Les Arts Florissants , William Christie - Belshazzar

STYLE: Choral
RATING 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9 9
LABEL: Les Arts Florissants Editions AF001

This product is currently not available from Cross Rhythms Direct

Reviewed by Steven Whitehead

This is the first release on William Christie's new Les Arts Florissants Editions label and a very fine one it is too. The packaging is sumptuous with a sturdy little box containing a comprehensive CD booklet with full libretto, a bonus booklet printed on special paper and containing an essay by Jean Echenoz: In Babylon, a specially commissioned work which draws the reader into the ancient, majestic city, the seat of power of Belshazzar the King; and - of course - the three discs. Even this detail shows the care that has been taken over this project as the discs are housed not in a fragile plastic jewel case that falls apart as soon as you open it but rather in a cleverly constructed three layer cardboard sleeve. All of this costs money and would be a waste if the music was not up to scratch but, rest assured, it is magnificent. Handel would cut and paste his compositions to suit the performers, the venue, or the occasion so William Christie has reconstructed what he believes to be the definitive score and defends his decisions in the CD booklet. The story, adapted from the Old Testament by Handel's preferred librettist Charles Jennens, is still relevant today: the decline of a once glorious society and the ephemeral nature of Empire. In 'Belshazzar' everything hits the spot: the emotional power, the vivid imagery, the contemporary resonance. How could one not be struck by the majestic architecture of the choruses; by the characterisation of Belshazzar himself, irascible, alcoholic, affronting the divine word? And who could not be deeply moved by Nicrotis' grief at witnessing the downfall of her son, or by the extraordinary complicity that develops between herself and Cyrus, the conquering King of the Persians? Christie keeps the pace going throughout and all his singers shine, particularly the soprano Rosemary Joshua (Nicrotis) and counter-tenor Iestyn Davies (Daniel). There are less expensive recordings available - some of them very good - but if you want the best both in terms of performance and presentation then we have no hesitation in recommending this.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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