Handel's retelling of the Christmas and Easter stories is as popular now as it was over two and a half centuries ago, from the heartfelt simplicity of 'I know that my Redeemer liveth' to the unsurpassable grandeur of the 'Hallelujah' chorus. On a high-definition Blu-Ray disc, this performance gains additional vibrancy and clarity.
Set in Egypt, Massenet's drama 'Thais' (1894) traces the ill-fated attempt of the monk, Athanaël, to rescue the soul of the celebrated Alexandrian courtesan, Thaïs. Though she is presently living with his wealthy friend Nicias, Athanaël persuades her to renounce her way of life and riches, but as she dies in the desert in a state of grace, he realises he has succumbed to her worldly charms and begs God for mercy. Renée Fleming triumphs as the glamorous courtesan Thaïs in Massenet’s romantic tragedy set in fourth century Alexandria and the Egyptian desert. The timeless struggle between earthly desire and spiritual redemption finally destroys the resolve of the monk Athanaël (Thomas Hampson), just as the newly penitent Thaïs ascends heavenward. Jesús López-Cobos gives a masterly performance of Massenet’s sensuous score, with concert master David Chan contributing a ravishing ‘Méditation’.
Of course, members of the distinguished avant-garde sax quartet Rova and the raucous avant jazz trio Nels Cline Singers (in which nobody sings, in case you wonder) have intermingled before on a few occasions – the Ascension project being one. Still, to bring the two together (and their audiences) and to write a repertoire especially for this short-lived septet had to require some guts and determination. And it was effort well invested, since The Celestial Septet is a thrilling record, and one of Rova's most artistically successful collaborations. Recorded in 2008 on two separate occasions, the CD features five works ranging between two and 25 minutes in duration. Strangely, both the shortest and longest piece are Larry Ochs compositions.