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Esther - Dunedin Consort -MusicWeb International


01 June 2012
MusicWeb International

Originally dubbed an oratorium, Esther is usually regarded as the first English oratorio, but it has not fared well in numbers of recordings: apart from the two listed here, of the 1720 and 1732 versions, there's one version from Harry Christophers and The Sixteen on Coro COR16019, a reconstruction of an even earlier 1718 version - see review and review of this recording when it was available on the Regis label. All three versions have their virtues, so what we lack numerically is made up for in terms of quality. The Coro can be obtained, with libretto, from classicsonline.com or streamed from the Naxos Music Library.

It's not long since Somm produced the first recording of the 1732 revision of Esther; now Linn bring us a credible restoration of the 1720 original, as performed at Cannons for the future Duke of Chandos, he of the Chandos Anthems. I shan't get into much detail about the differences between the versions, since Linn offer the raison d'être for their performing version for all to read on their website - here. As you will see from the comparative playing times, there is a good deal more music in the 1732 version, including rearranged versions of two of the Coronation Anthems: My heart is inditing and (to a different text) Zadok the Priest. Handel had already borrowed from himself and others in the 1720 version but you're less likely to spot these than those in 1732.

If you must have all the music of 1732, you won't go far wrong with the Somm recording. It's far more than a stop-gap version and it's available in mp3 and 16-bit lossless from theclassicalshop.net - a first-rate performance, with excellent soloists, well recorded (live, with a modicum of applause) but there's no libretto. If you subscribe to the Naxos Music Library you will be able to download the 1718 libretto which comes with the Coro recording but that, of course, is radically different in some respects: the opening words between Harbonah and Assuerus in the 1718 and 1720 versions don't occur until Scene 3 in 1732.

The Dunedin Consort, John Butt and Linn have already brought us some excellent recordings of Handel and Bach* and this new Esther is worthy to stand with them. Their approach is on a smaller scale than that on Somm, as befits a putative performance at Cannons at around the same time as the first version of Acis and Galatea, which the Dunedin Consort have also performed (see below). If pushed to make a choice, I'd abandon the extra items and go for the new recording of the 1720 version. This was a strong candidate for Download of the Month - the singing is very good on both sets, but the Linn is more historically informed, comes complete with libretto and an excellent set of notes and is less expensive than the Somm: the prices range from £8 for mp3 (as against £14.98 for the Somm from theclassicalshop.net and £15.98 for the Coro from classicsonline.com) via £10 for 16-bit lossless (against £19.98 for the Somm). The Linn recording also comes in 24/96 and 24/192 versions for audiophiles - there's no Somm or Coro equivalent of these.
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Related Links

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Handel: Esther, First reconstructable version (Cannons), 1720Handel: Esther, First reconstructable version (Cannons), 1720