Handel: Theodora

Arcangelo & Louise Alder (Soprano), Tim Mead (Counter-tenor), Anna Stéphany (Mezzo-soprano) Stuart Jackson (Tenor), Adam Plachetka (Bass-baritone)

Among Handel’s seventeen English oratorios, Theodora (1750) is unique. The story is not taken from the Bible, it is set in the Christian era, there is no national triumph and it does not end in joy. At the end, the hero and heroine are dead, the community with which the audience identifies is in mortal danger, and the final chorus is in a minor key. As a musical drama, it is the direct ancestor of Dialogues des Carmélites . At the age of 65, Handel produced a work that was too radical and complex for most of his audience. Today, Theodora is regarded as a benchmark “thinking person’s opera”, both deeply stimulating and powerfully moving.

This is the first new studio recording in almost a quarter of a century by a British ensemble of Handel’s penultimate oratorio. It is rooted in Arcangelo and Jonathan Cohen’s deep experience and understanding of the work which began with Theodora’s BBC Proms premiere performance in 2018 and has since captivated audiences and critics across Europe. Arcangelo’s peerless ensemble are joined by an outstanding cast of soloists (led by Louise Alder in the title role she has held in every Arcangelo concert performance) – all captured in state-of-the-art sound.

Featured works

  • Handel: Theodora HWV 68

Press & Praise

GRAMOPHONE EDITOR’S CHOICE

“Jonathan Cohen and his superb Arcangelo ensemble, plus a perfectly picked selection of soloists, offer a performance rich in detail and humanity…”

LIMELIGHT RECORD OF THE MONTH

“…one would have to go back to the Gabrieli Consort & Players with Paul McCreesh to find anything remotely comparable to the present recording, which must now be the new benchmark for anything that follows. Arcangelo’s Theodora has the benefit of being recorded after numerous acclaimed live performances, and the to-die-for (forgive the pun) cast remains largely the same. One need only point out a single example of the artistry of each to silence any naysayers.  For Theodora – beloved of God indeed, despite the facts – listen to soprano Louise Alder’s exquisite “Angels, Ever Bright and Fair”, her floating tone and purity of diction implausibly binding fragility and strength in phrase after lissom phrase.”

EUROPADISC

“From her very first appearance, Alder exudes an ideal combination of vulnerability and inner strength, and her arias… are absolute pearls […]  The Arcangelo chorus rise to the almost schizophrenic demands of their dual role as Heathens and Christians, immaculately drilled and clearly projecting but full of engagement with the vivid text. Above all, the Arcangelo instrumentalists – especially the strings on whom much of the expressive burden falls – are simply inspired, with a vast range of projected colours under Cohen’s ever-probing direction. In every number, there is evidence of music that has accompanied them for many seasons, with a depth of engagement, care and insight that nevertheless sounds wonderfully fresh…”

OPERA

La justesse des couleurs, leur variété, la profondeur de la respiration, la concentration des silences, créent une ferveur musicale d’une rare pertinence dramatique.”

BBC RADIO 3 RECORD OF THE WEEK

“The casting, Louise Alder is rather special in this isn’t she? […] Adam Plachetka as Valens was a bit of a revelation to me […] We like this so much, I’ve made this my record of the week.”

PLANET HUGILL

“A performance of Handel’s late masterpiece that combines musical beauties with a sense of the inner meaning of the words, with a wonderful central performance from Louise Alder.”

MUSIK AN SICH.DE

“Insgesamt gehört “Arcangelos” verinnerlichte, klangschöne und ausgewogene “Theodora” gewiss zu den stimmigsten und ergreifendsten Versionen dieses außergewöhnlichen Werks. Die Aufnahme zeigt, dass diese Musik keine zusätzlichen Effekte benötigt, um zu berühren, sondern ihre Essenz auf den Grund geht. Cohen und das Ensemble Arcangelo schaffen es, die spirituelle Tiefe und emotionale Wirkung des Werks auf eindrucksvolle Weise zu vermitteln.”

LA LIBRE BELGIQUE

“Nouvelle preuve avec cette très belle version gravée en studio par Jonathan Cohen et son ensemble – instrumental et vocal, car il y a d’enthousiasmantes parties chorales dans ces oratorios – Arcangelo. Louise Alder incarne le rôle-titre, entourée de Tim Mead, Stuart Jackson, Adama Plachetka et Anna Stéphany. Intense !”

MUSIC WEB INTERNATIONAL

“…a proper recording from serious, musical singers, an orchestra strongly versed in the milieu directed by a conductor who knows precisely how to gauge and measure each orchestral effect. The result is a reading in which depth, gravity, tragedy and ultimate consolation are always foremost and in which tricksy decorations, explosive orchestral gestures, and a general air of triviality are wholly absent.”

BBC MUSIC MAGAZINE

“Director Jonathan Cohen and the top musicians he’s assembled have found an intimacy, tension and vulnerability in ‘Theodora’ which have not previously been explored. For Cohen, less sound is more drama. Pianissimos, gentle pulses, delicate blend and outright silence are his tools. Such subtlety requires not only prodigious technique from his performers, but also a shared sensibility among them. Both are on hand with Arcangelo, the band Cohen has led and shaped over two decades, and whose gorgeously textured playing adorns every pitch with expression.”

CLASSICA

“On frémit devant le Valens persuasif d’Adam Plachetka et on rend les armes aux pieds du Didymus bouleversant de Tim Mead qui, du contre-ténor anglais, possède la grâce.”

SCHERZO

“Louise Alder, con una voz limpia y clara, pero con color y carnosidad y muy expresiva, es una protagonista sobresaliente y hace a pedir de boca cada intervención.”

RADIO KRAKÓW KULTURA

“The soloists alone could be a sufficient argument for reaching for this recording of ‘Theodora’, but the Arcangelo choir and orchestra, spectacularly led from the harpsichord by Jonathan Cohen, constitute the extraordinary color and particular drama of this account.”

Album Details

  • Released February 2024
  • Alpha Classics | ALPHA1025
  • Recorded March-April 2023

Performers

  • Louise Alder (Theodora; Soprano)
  • Tim Mead (Didymus; Counter-Tenor)
  • Anna Stéphany (Irene; Mezzo-Soprano)
  • Stuart Jackson (Septimius; Tenor)
  • Adam Plachetka (Valens; Bass-Baritone)
  • Arcangelo
  • Jonathan Cohen (Direction)

Awards

Record of the Week Feb 2024

Editor's choice Mar 2024

Record of the Month Jun 2024

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