HANDEL: Joseph and His Brethren
Soloists, Choirs of New College, Oxford and the King's Consort/The King's Consort/Robert King, cond.
HYPERION 67171 (3 CDs) (F) (DDD) TT: 164:02

The six-year period from 1739 through 1745 proved very fruitful for George Frideric Handel. Major works from that period included Saul, Israel in Egypt, Messiah, Samson, Semele and Joseph and His Brethren. Hold everything: What, you may ask, is this Joseph work? You probably know, or have heard, of the other oratorios. But not Joseph and His Brethren. This "sacred drama" received more than casual public support following its 1744 premiere. Historians blame its popular decline on James Miller's convoluted plot from Genesis. No, you really don't want to know it. Suffice it to say there's enough intrigue, betrayal, scheming protagonists, dream-induced misadventures and imprisonments, plus a famine or two, to fuel a couple more oratorios.

That leaves the music -- much of which is memorable -- to enjoy. Especially the soprano arias, magnificently sung by Yvonne Kenny. Her "Silver Stream, that all its way," flows pure vocal gold. Equally impressive are the splendid choirs of the king's Consort and New College, Oxford, which vitalize such choruses as "Hail, thou youth by heaven's beloved" and "Allelujah. We will rejoice in thy salvation." The remaining vocal soloists are, in true English oratorio tradition, serviceable at best. Not so the very fine King's Consort and conductor Robert king, who propel the score with intensity and passion. Yes, this is a Handel trove to treasure.

K.S. (Sept. 1999)