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Handel’s 1744 oratorio is a forceful, vivid and original work that really begs for a heftier, more muscular performance than this typically assiduous and well-schooled rendition by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants. A lot of the work’s strength comes through, but I constantly found myself wanting more – a rather butcher chorus, for example, and a sharper focus in the edgy joviality of the Babylonians. But the contrasts are nicely done – Cyrus’s Persians sound like Frederick the Great’s army going into battle singing chorales, and the Jews have nice Anglican psalm tunes. Everything is as accurate as you’d expect, but too much drama and spirit is sacrificed in the pursuit of directionless beauty. Of the soloists, Rosemary Joshua’s Nitocris does everything asked of her without really stamping her personality on it; Caitlin Hulcup, an estimable young Australian mezzo, lacks the last bit of authority Cyrus needs, Iestyn Davies turns his astonishing voice to a mellifluous Daniel, Allan Clayton is a ringing, forthright Belshazzar and Jonathan Lemalu sings some of Handel’s most characterful bass music with much expression.

Robert Thicknesse Read the full review on Agora Classica


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