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’.
Tift Merritt has become unexpectedly (and thankfully) prolific since she signed with Fantasy Records in 2008, after going four years without releasing a record. See You on the Moon is her third album in as many years, and from the first track, the gentle and soul-infused love song "Mixtape," she demonstrates that she can maintain solid quality control at this pace and does so with ease. See You on the Moon is a more spare and intimate-sounding set than 2008's Another Country, as if she learned a bit about the value of concision with her 2009 solo acoustic live set Buckingham Solo, but Merritt clearly works well with others (the backing musicians are uniformly great, and Jim James of My Morning Jacket contributes some solid harmonies on "Feel of the World"), and while the arrangements wisely avoid cluttering the clean landscapes of her melodies, producer and engineer Tucker Martine gives the recordings a full-bodied sound even when the performances are purposefully simple. As on Merritt's other albums, the real key to See You on the Moon lies in her songs and her voice, and both are in splendid form here.