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Handel: Alceste, Comus / Christopher Hogwood, Kirkby

Release Date: 05/13/2008 
Label:  L'oiseau Lyre   Catalog #: 421479   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Emma KirkbyPatrizia KwellaJudith NelsonPaul Elliott,   ... 
Conductor:  Christopher Hogwood
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of Ancient Music
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Good judgement and gentleness of touch result in a Handel record of distinction.

The events surrounding Handel's incidental music to Alceste are clouded in mystery. The play, ''a sort of Tragedy on the Story of Alceste'' as the author, Tobias Smollett called it, has never been recovered and moreover the performances due for early 1750 were unaccountably cancelled—despite large sums already expended to secure the best scenery, sets and actors. Handel's music, predictably, found its way into new projects for that year but the score of Alceste still gives us an insight into the role music played in the original conception, one not entirely dissimilar to the part Purcell's music played in English semi-operas a couple of
Read more generations earlier; none of the major protagonists sing but music is used to affirm the narrative or enhance the prevailing emotion. One such affecting moment, and one of Emma Kirkby's golden arias on record, is the first aria sung by the muse, Calliope. ''Gentle Morpheus'' is essentially an adopted Lullian sommeil in which this minor character appears to Admetus (Alceste's wife) in a notably cathartic dream, here transformed by the new Italian da capo mentality.

My initial reaction on returning to a recording which encapsulated so much of the pioneering spirit of the British 'period performance' movement is that the clarity of that new sound-world is still freshly communicated, as in the case with so many of Florilegium re-releases. Cynics might claim that a work such as this represents no more than a sort of musical Laura Ashley pattern where no real interpretative demands are made on the performers, hence a perfect canvas for all to shine in the early music milieu of 1979. I would say in response, that despite the distinctly undramatic nature of the music, the good judgement and gentleness of touch which went into these sessions resulted in a Handel record of distinction. So much for critics of baroque string playing—it is a delight throughout. In ''Come Fancy'' the articulation is engagingly light and contributes significantly to Hogwood's astute characterization. The singing, typical of so many releases of the time, is in some contexts a little undemonstrative and precious but in others revelatory. Handel's slight setting of the epilogue from Milton's masque is worth hearing but does not warrant repeated listening as do the many joys of Alceste.

-- Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, Gramophone [11/1994] Review of L'Oiseau-Lyre 443-183
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Works on This Recording

Alceste, HWV 45 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Emma Kirkby (Soprano), Patrizia Kwella (Soprano), Judith Nelson (Soprano),
Paul Elliott (Tenor), David Thomas (Bass), Margaret Cable (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Christopher Hogwood
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of Ancient Music
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1749-1750; London, England 
Comus, HWV 44 by George Frideric Handel
Performer:  Paul Elliott (Tenor), David Thomas (Bass), Margaret Cable (Mezzo Soprano),
Patrizia Kwella (Soprano), Judith Nelson (Soprano), Emma Kirkby (Soprano)
Conductor:  Christopher Hogwood
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Academy of Ancient Music
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1745; London, England 

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