Please wait...

Hyperion Records

CDA67171/3 - Handel: Joseph and his Brethren
The Pyramids of Giza by Edward Lear (1812-1888)
Christie's, London / Bridgeman Art Library, London

Recording details: March 1996
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Ben Turner
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: October 1996
Total duration: 163 minutes 29 seconds

'I have no reservations about encouraging anyone interested in Handel to buy this set and to acquaint themselves with the many delights of this grossly neglected work' (Gramophone)

'With first-rate casts and careful attention to Handel's original texts, King has blown the dust off some magnificent music' (BBC Record Review)

'This is as fine a case as one could imagine being made for the work' (American Record Guide)

'A must for all dedicated Handelians' (Classic CD)

'Robert King and Hyperion can be more than satisfied with another fine addition to their steadily-increasing Handel discography' (Organists' Review)

'No lover of Handel should be without this wonderful work, now at last done justice on CD' (Hi-Fi News)

'Mi recomendación más absoluta … Tres horas de deleite musical que no se debe perder' (CD Compact, Spain)

Joseph and his Brethren

Joseph and his Brethren, the latest in The King's Consort's mammoth series of recordings of the grand oratorios of Handel, tells the story of Joseph, sold into slavery by his perfidious brothers, winning acceptance at the court of Pharaoh in Egypt by his interpretation of the dreams foretelling seven years of plenty, and seven of famine. His brothers come from drought-ridden Israel to beg for food, and are eventually reunited with Joseph.

The work is characteristically full of melodic invention and drama, culminating in the scene between Joseph and his youngest—and innocent—brother Benjamin (here sung by the stunning treble Connor Burrowes) in which Joseph is emotionally overcome and admits his true identity. No wonder the work was so warmly received at its first performance.

Other recommended albums
'Handel: Deborah' (CDA66841/2)
Handel: Deborah
Buy by post £20.00 CDA66841/2  2CDs  
'Handel: Joshua' (CDA66461/2)
Handel: Joshua
Buy by post £20.00 CDA66461/2  2CDs  
'Handel: The Occasional Oratorio' (CDA66961/2)
Handel: The Occasional Oratorio
Buy by post £20.00 CDA66961/2  2CDs  
'Purcell: Odes, Vol. 5 – Welcome glorious morn' (CDA66476)
Purcell: Odes, Vol. 5 – Welcome glorious morn
Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA66476  Archive Service; also available on CDS44031/8   Download currently discounted
'Purcell: Odes, Vol. 7 – Yorkshire Feast Song' (CDA66587)
Purcell: Odes, Vol. 7 – Yorkshire Feast Song
Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA66587  Archive Service; also available on CDS44031/8   Download currently discounted

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
The six years from 1739 brought about some of Handel’s finest large-scale works. In 1739 came Saul, Israel in Egypt and the Ode for St Cecilia’s Day, the following year L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato, in 1742 Messiah, the next year Samson, in 1744 Semele and Joseph and his Brethren, and the year after Hercules and Belshazzar. Of these works, Joseph (and, to a lesser degree, Hercules) has been curiously neglected. In Handel’s day the oratorio was well thought of: after the first of its four performances in March 1744 Handel was able to bank £250 and he revived it—as usual, with revisions—for pairs of performances in 1745 and 1747, and then for single performances in 1755 and 1757.

The Earl of Egmont was impressed at his first hearing, calling the oratorio an ‘inimitable composition’ and that indefatigable Handel supporter Mrs Delany reported that audiences were good: ‘The oratorios fill very well, notwithstanding the spite of the opera party … I fancy Handel will have a second subscription’. The rehearsals had not been trouble-free, and there are enough stories about Handel’s ill-tempered rehearsals for us to realize that he was not an easy man for whom to work. On 25 February Mrs Delany wrote to her sister: ‘Handel is mightily out of humour … Sullivan, who is to sing Joseph, is a block with a very fine voice, and Beard has no voice at all’.

Irritating to Handel or not, the cast at the first Covent Garden performance on 2 March 1744 was a distinguished one, including the countertenor ‘block with a fine voice’ Daniel Sullivan as Joseph and Elisabeth Duparc (otherwise known as ‘La Francescina’) as Asenath. The tenor John Beard (one of Handel’s most favoured soloists who continued—clearly finding his voice again—to sing for Handel well into the 1750s) sang the roles of both Simeon and Judah, the German bass Thomas Reinhold the parts of Pharaoh and Reuben, the contralto Esther Young the role of Phanor, and ‘The Boy’ (probably Samuel Champness) sang Benjamin. In the four revivals between 1745 and 1757 the parts for Joseph, Benjamin, Phanor and the High Priest were altered, with the casting of different voices bringing about new arias and transpositions of existing ones. Some of these alterations make the score confusing, especially in the recitative writing for Joseph, where there are frequently two possible sets of notes. In 1745 a boy treble may have sung the role, explaining Handel’s inking-in of some new notes, and the nineteenth-century Handel editor Chrysander added to the confusion by claiming that the treble took part in the first performance—which the evidence shows is not the case. Our performance follows (as much as we can ascertain) the original edition heard in the two 1744 Covent Garden performances.

Twentieth-century scholars have been unkind about Joseph and his Brethren. Winton Dean starts his chapter (in Handel’s Dramatic Oratorios and Masques) with the statement, ‘Of all the oratorios Deborah and Joseph come nearest to complete failure’. This view of Joseph seems largely to have been based (as was Dean’s opinion of Deborah, restored after its recent Hyperion recording to a better reputation) on Dean’s views of the libretto, and not really on the music at all. As ever, Handel’s arias and choruses are full of good, varied music, the prison scenes are especially theatrical and effective, the recitative writing and the accompagnatos are particularly colourful in their harmonic invention, and (drawing shamelessly on the time-honoured theatrical tradition of placing an innocent child centre-stage) the writing for young Benjamin can have left few dry eyes in the house.

Robert King © 1996

   English   Français   Deutsch