La Sfera Armoniosa | Mike Fentross

Händel: Oratorio Arias (CD)

Regular price €19,95
Unit price

La Sfera Armoniosa | Mike Fentross

Händel: Oratorio Arias (CD)

Regular price €19,95
Unit price
Tax included. Shipping calculated at checkout.


George Frideric Händel
Oratorio Arias

Oscar Verhaar (Countertenor)
La Sfera Armoniosa | Mike Fentross 

Challenge Classics / HQ|NORTHSTAR

Catalogue CC7297



Download Booklet PDF


(Low Resolution excerpts)




About the Album

The introduction of an album about freedom could, of course, deal with many
topics. Covid-lockdowns, the war between Russia and Ukraine and suppression
of women in Iran, to name a few, were prominently in the news during the
course of this project and were influential in the thinking process. Needless
to say, the current war between Israel and Hamas is especially relevant to the
music of this album. However, the real elephant in the room is slavery.
This disc is filled with music that was written with the support of money earned
through slavery. Look at the list of benefactors to Handel’s Royal Academy and
comparing it to the investors of the Royal African Company and the South Sea
Company (the two major English slave trading organisations), 32% of Handel’s
sponsors were also investors in these companies. Some of them, such as
members of the royal family and the Duke of Chandos, were leading figures.
Unsurprisingly, the influence of the elite on Handel’s music business becomes
apparent even in artistic choices. The libretto of Deborah was dedicated to
Queen Caroline. Alexander Balus has a link to the Jacobite rising of 1745 and
the opening prison scene of Joseph and his Brethren must have reminded
the audience of the house arrest King George II endured long before his
coronation. Mind you, Joseph was actually enslaved, the king merely confined
to a palace. Handel often received payments through banks associated with the slave-
trading companies and eventually became a rich man. Hence, even though
he was not actively involved in slave trading, he did benefit greatly from it.

And so do we, as we still enjoy playing and listening to his music. Is this only the
case for Handel’s art? Of course not. Slavery was a large economic motor at the
time, so money made from slavery was everywhere. From music to paintings to
the caritative institutions like the London Foundling Hospital. And how about
today? Are the arts not sponsored by fossil fuel companies? Do you not have a
bank account with a bank that was found guilty of fraud or money laundering?
And who picked your strawberries?

This leads to the question how ‘innocent’ we are ourselves. You can’t change
the system on your own, but let it be a mirror for your actions. Perhaps Handel
too saw a mirror in the systems of his time. At least he used his medium, music,
to compose works about freedom that are very emotional and invite to (self)
reflection. Handel’s English oratorios are mostly based on biblical stories
that deal with resistance, suppression, captivity and, finally, freedom reached
with the help of a leader sent by God. So we find in his oeuvre impressive
slave choruses and many arias about (the lack of) freedom, eight of which
are presented on this album. Some scholars suggest that the British people
felt they were surrounded by enemies. They projected their own (supposed)
hazardous position on the stories told on the stage and it was not yet the time
to reflect on whom they were suppressing themselves. But that is what we
could do now.

Please take time to reflect and watch two round table discussions organised
by the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic for some
more context and opinions about how to deal with the influence of slave-trading economics on (Handel’s) music. These American institutions brought
together people from various backgrounds to discuss the complex questions
and emotions that come with this dark side of human behaviour. There is still
a lot to learn.

Album Tracks

[1] All Danger disdaining – Deborah (HWV 51) 4:23 

[2] Return, O God of Hosts – Samson (HWV 57) 9:17 

[3] Fury, with red-sparkling Eyes – Alexander Balus (HWV 65) 6:03 

Ouverture – Susanna (HWV 66) 

[4] [unmarked] 2:16 

[5] Staccato e non troppo allegro – Lentement 2:49 

[6] In the Battle – Deborah (HWV 51) 7:24 

O sacred Oracles of Truth – Belshazzar (HWV 61) 

[7] Air – O sacred Oracles of Truth 4:46 

[8] Recit. accompany’d – Rejoice, my Countrymen 1:22 

[9] Recit. accompany’d – Thus saith the Lord 2:36 

Symphony – Joseph and his Brethren (HWV 59) 

[10] I. Andante 1:19 

[11] II. Larghetto 1:41 

[12] III. Allegro 2:08 

[13] IV. Menuet, Larghetto e piano 1:26 

[14] Be firm, my Soul – Joseph and his Brethren (HWV 59) 9:17 

[15] O Lord, whose Mercies numberless – Saul (HWV 53) 4:25 

[16] Up the dreadful Steep ascending – Jephtha (HWV 70) 4:18 

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