'Alexander's Feast' is one of Handel's most melodically rich, compelling and satisfying vocal works. Its length, about an hour and a half, was considered a bit too short for the great Saxon's own London audiences, so for the various performances he filled it out by inserting a concerto or two. But, for listening purposes nowadays – especially at home – the work's length and variety are just fine, and so any extra freebies are unnecessary. Some might feel that the work alone is short measure for a two-disc set, and indeed a couple of the available recordings do throw in one or two concerti grossi or a harp concerto; but personally I don't think we need them, no matter how good they are, because the oratorio itself is a superb and well-rounded masterpiece in itself.
I've been listening to four of these recordings recently, and writing a review on each of them. Any readers who happen to look in on the other reviews, please be kind enough to excuse the repetition of these two paragraphs of introduction - which saves me trying to repeat the same ideas in four different ways. The four versions I've been paying attention to are the present one, directed by Benjamin Lack, and those under Harry Christophers, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, and Marcus Bosch. Of these, Lack and Bosch are fairly recent at the time of writing, whereas the other two are from the previous century. They are all very different, the comparisons are fascinating, and it may or may not be surprising to say that I found the two versions by the lesser-known directors and ensembles to be my favourites.
This live 2015 recording is by Austrian performers, namely the early-music ensemble Concerto Stella Matutina and Kammerchor Feldkirch, directed by Benjamin Lack. Vocal soloists are soprano Miriam Feuersinger, tenor Daniel Johannsen and bass Matthias Helm. The overture gets the proceedings off to a great start, with crisp, stylish playing from the medium-sized period-instrument band. In fact the orchestra are excellent throughout, with spirited and accurate contributions from horns and trumpets where appropriate. Soloists are all excellent, with a lovely soprano voice, excellent and versatile tenor for this crucial role, and sonorous bass. Their English is pretty good too, with nothing to cause any distraction. The choir are musically excellent, vigorous and accurate, although their English pronunciation shows the occasional imperfection. The compelling chorus 'The many rend the skies' (CD1, track 18 and 20) is a good example of their high-quality work, with equally fine contributions from the players in their busy accompanying instrumental lines. Very impressive again is the final chorus, 'Let old Timotheus yield the prize' (2/8), set in motion beautifully by the three vocal soloists and with everyone else then joining in to reach a splendid climax.
The recorded sound is clear, atmospheric, and altogether very fine indeed. Booklet notes are adequate although I would have appreciated more detail. The English text is provided. Overall, this is one of my two favourite recordings of the work, the other being the modern-instrument performance directed by Marcus Bosch. The present version, directed by Benjamin Lack, is also a terrific success, with stylish, spirited direction and highly enjoyable musicianship from start to finish.