Esther - Dunedin Consort - AllMusic.com
With its 2012 release of Handel's Esther, the Dunedin Consort continues its admirable series of recordings of little known or recently reconstructed versions of Baroque oratorios, begun in 2006 with its award-winning Dublin version of Messiah. There have been other reconstructions of the early version of Esther, Handel's first English oratorio, but the impetus behind this one, "the first reconstructable version, 1720" comes from research published in 2010 by musicologist John H. Roberts that clarifies which music reflects Handel's intentions for a private 1720 performance at Cannons, the residence of James Bridges, who became Duke of Chandos, and which was added for its 1732 revival. Conductor John Butt leads a chorus of 11 (from which the eight soloists are drawn) and chamber orchestra, forces that reflect those available to Handel when he wrote the piece. The size of the performing group is one of the factors in creating the intimate effect of this performance, but not the only one. Butt leads an exceptionally supple account that heightens the personal aspects of the drama, and the chorus and soloists sing colorfully and with urgent expressiveness. Some of the soloists, particularly Susan Hamilton in the title role, have voices of relatively modest size, and those with larger voices such as James Gilchrist and bass Matthew Brook sing with the restraint appropriate to the size of the private setting for which Handel was writing. There is no lacking for grandeur or volume, though, in the oratorio's majestic choruses. The sound is clean, present, and is nicely resonant without being booming.