O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
So I picked the first alto solo--who would've thought? The recording is from The Academy of Ancient Music under the direction of Christopher Hogwood. Carolyn Watkinson is the contralto singing the solo. She has your stereo-typical contralto/mezzo sound...sometimes this covers up her ornamentation (I'll get to that later). The orchestra used authentic instruments, and has a nice balance. I think Hogwood (despite the traumas of having a name like Hogwood) did well at balancing the strings with the harpsichord. When the vocalist is singing, it's mainly harpsichord accompaniment with strings playing in the interludes; but the harpsichord is still heard in the interludes. The violins approach in the interludes really adds a lot to the movement of line. The vocal line alone is not that exciting...but with the strings it really moves.
Baroque music is meant to be ornamented, and I think Watkinson really went to town on her ornaments, and has excellent ideas--but sometimes her voice detracts from the listeners fully grasping her ornamentation. Her pitch is good but her tone quality makes listening a bit fuzzy sometimes. I guess I prefer a clearer mezzo voice--or even a counter-tenor--it's easier to appreciate the melodic line that way. I did find it interesting, and was pleased by the fact that on held notes Watkinson stayed true to Handel's notation and did well at embellishing the well known runs, forcing me to play closer attention. Her cadenza at the end of the solo left a little to be desired...I wanted her to go all the way to the 'D'...but she's a contralto so we'll cut her some slack. Extra thought: wow, Handel really loves the pick up notes--this solo is in 6/8 and every single entrance is either on 5 or 6. That says something...hmm....good thinking Handel ;)
The choir on the recording is the Choir of Christ Church Cathedral of Oxford. I LOVE what they add to the piece! Hogwood goes for a very percussive sound from the voices in phrases "the glory of the lord"--and I think it works wonderfully! (The chorus is brought in because Handel often avoids the da capo aria by having the chorus enter at the end of a solo and opening it with a small recit section) Their sound is very airy, but the boy choir sound is great for this baroque music (I wish Watkinson would've listened to them a little bit more). Hogwood also has effective cut-offs and the diction is good.
Bravo, Handel...and Hogwood.