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I imagine few would deny Handel’s final oratorio its place as one of his most moving and powerfully dramatic works. It is this dramatic intensity coupled with probing insight into the humanity of the work that lies at the heart of Harry Christophers’ inspirational direction. In particular, the central drama – Jephtha’s recognition that the sacrifice he has vowed to make will be his own daughter Iphis – here takes on an almost unbearable poignancy hardly softened by the fate of Iphis being contrived by Handel’s librettist to become service to God, rather than death.

Beyond Christophers the hero of this performance is the choir, which brings vivid immediacy to the magnificent choruses, singing with excellent diction and cleanly focussed tone. James Gilchrist’s strongly projected Jephtha develops credibly from authoritative hero to broken father, while Sophie Bevan’s Iphis is also splendidly characterised, conveying a chaste innocent charm that evolves convincingly to patient acceptance of her fate. Susan Bickley’s Storgè, Robin Blaze’s Hamor and Matthew Brook’s commanding Zebul also deserve high honours. A couple of caveats: treatment of vocal ornamentation is inconsistent and often imprecise, while the inclusion of harp as well as theorbo in the continuo is superfluous, making for a curiously archaic texture. However, these are relatively minor details in the context of what is one of the best things I’ve heard on disc from Christophers.

Brian Robins Read the full review on Agora Classica


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