Dunedin Consort/John Butt

Handel’s Samson


IT is now 13 years since Edinburgh-based Dunedin Consort put itself firmly on the international period-performance map with the award-winning Linn-label recording of Messiah, as originally performed at its Dublin premiere. Now here is Handel’s own follow-up, the oratorio based on John Milton’s Samson Agonistes, adapted with great skill by his librettist Newburgh Hamilton, and presented, like Messiah, in Butt’s reconstruction of its original form.

Although superficially closer to opera than its predecessor, it has little dramatic action, and this version, spread over three discs, is almost three and a half hours long, with part one much extended compared with other versions. At least, it is spread over three discs in the hard-copy version; there is a parallel download-only recording that dispenses with the larger chorus, and boys’ choir, which Butt contends were likely not to have been singing at the initial London performance, where the eight soloists combined as the chorus.

The soloists on the recording are not all those of the Edinburgh Festival performance of 2018, which had Paul Appleby in the title tole, and Alice Coote in the pivotal mezzo role of Micah, but there can be no complaint about the performances of Joshua Ellicott and Jess Dandy here, nor of any of the singing, solo and choral, with Sophie Bevan a seductive Dalila, bass Matthew Brook and tenor Hugo Hymas significantly present in every incarnation of the project so far, and Fflur Wyn and Mary Bevan superb in the smaller soprano roles (who have some of the best tunes).

With the Consort’s best instrumentalists in place and Linn’s Philip Hobbs producing, this is an immaculate, and hugely important, recording. More prizes assuredly await.

Keith Bruce