HANDEL 'Freedom - Oratorio Arias' (Oscar Verhaar)

Freedom - Handel: Oratorio Arias
La Sfera Armoniosa, Oscar Verhaar, Mike Fentross
Challenge Classics: CC72973

When I was an undergraduate, discussions about Handel’s nationality raged, before attention turned to his sexuality. Both debates are now eclipsed by the Handel-slavery conversation, where keeping silence – even at this historical distance – feels like a kind of complicity. In this regard Oscar Verhaar is a thinking musician’s countertenor, offering a disc of Handel’s English oratorio arias that acknowledges the complexities and horrors of the 18th century while still admiring Handel’s art. ‘This disc is filled with music that was written with the support of money earned through slavery’, he writes, and explains that ‘even though [Handel] was not actively involved in slave trading, he did benefit greatly from it’. His notes point us to three references and asks that we engage with them alongside the music. It is the least we can do.


Long legato phrases are also beautifully wrought in ‘O Lord, whose mercies numberless’, David’s aria attempting to soothe the jealousy of King Saul, where I also get the feeling that Verhaar’s stage presence operates best in smaller, profound moments, meaning that many of these arias are a happy match. There is a lot of thought-provoking music and a lot of thought-provoking musicology on this album. Supporting the whole project is some really beautiful instrumental playing: listen especially for the thrilling continuo team. Warmly recommended.

For the full text of this review please click here: Gramophone June 2024


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