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G2: Film & Music: Reviews: Classical: Handel: The Triumph of Time and Truth Bevan/Bevan/Mead/ Lyon/Berger/Ludus Baroque/Neville-Towle DELPHIAN, 2 CDS 4/5

June 27, 2014

Tim Ashley



First performed in 1757, Handel's last oratorio, The Triumph of Time and Truth, is a drastic revision of Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, written about 50 years earlier during Handel's Italian period. The latter is one of his greatest works, and it has become common for critics to say that the 1757 version is vastly inferior. This new recording from Richard Neville-Towle and Ludus Baroque may force us to refine that judgment. It won't dislodge the original from its high place in the Handelian canon, though it reveals that The Triumph of Time and Truth is by no means the disaster some have claimed.

The differences are, in part, of tone. Both works share a common allegorical narrative, in which Time and Counsel do battle with Pleasure and Deceit for the soul of Beauty, whose irresponsible hedonism, as a result, gradually gives way to a contemplation of transience and mortality. Il Trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno has overtones of Catholic sensuousness, and is rooted in Platonic concepts of desire, giving eventual access to the divine. The later version is altogether more Protestant and austere. Some of the more sensual arias have been cut or rewritten. The arguments of Time and Counsel are now backed by some of Handel's most severe choruses, and the latter sometimes get in the way. The original ends with Beauty mystically contemplating eternity. Here, her sermon on the famous passage from St Paul on faith, hope and love is followed by a choral Hallelujah that comes dangerously close to wrecking the mood.

It's nicely done, however, with finely shaped, unflamboyant conducting from Neville-Towle, gracious playing and some very fine singing. Sophie Bevan plays Beauty in what is arguably her finest recording to date; the final aria is breathtaking. Her sister Mary as Deceit sounds at once seductive and cunning, while Ed Lyon is all elegant bravado and swagger as Pleasure. The opposition finds Tim Mead's infinitely chaste Counsel teamed with William Berger's Time. He's a bit too young and sexy for the role, but the ease and beauty of his singing are exceptional.


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Source: Guardian (UK)


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