Notes and Editorial Reviews
This reissue from 1988 is a happy reminder of the good old days when John Eliot Gardiner was making some consistently terrific recordings, particularly of Baroque choral repertoire, with the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists. The conducting here (unlike many of his latest projects) is entirely without mannerism--tempos are bright but never too fast, rhythms are crisply articulated, and even the slower numbers move with their intended dramatic/emotional weight without dragging, in effective contrast with the predominant faster airs and choruses. The chorus is fabulous, soloists are first-rate, and the orchestra shows why it was among the top-tier period-instrument bands even when such
groups were relatively rare and excellent ones desperately few.
Highlights include all of the airs and recits sung by soprano Donna Brown and bass Stephen Varcoe; the rousing, rich-toned horns in "Bacchus, ever fair and young", along with the engaging bass solo and its surprising melodic/harmonic twist; the precisely executed rapid string figures in the air "The princes applaud..."; and the subsequent number, "Thais led the way", one of Handel's lovlier air/chorus combinations.
Musically, this setting of Dryden's St. Cecilia Day Ode (1697) is one of Handel's more ingenious creations--the fact that this "entertainment", neither an opera nor oratorio in the strict sense, is not more often performed or recorded is odd. Not only did Handel achieve the aim to express "the power of music" in an impressive array of forms, colors, and textures, but he did it with utmost concision, typical dramatic flair, and with loads of beautiful melodies and lively orchestral music. A careful listener will notice many foreshadowings of later works such as Messiah.
This recording was made from two concert performances, and except for a few places where the balances between chorus and orchestra are weighted too much toward the instruments, the sound is absolutely fine (and it's overall slightly better than the brighter, less-detailed Sixteen recording, although that program also contains the two concertos Handel originally inserted in the middle of each of the work's two parts). Fans of Handel's choral/vocal music who have missed this unusual and indeed, very entertaining work, should snap this up without delay.
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com
Works on This Recording
Alexander's Feast, HWV 75 "Ode for St Cecilia's Day" by George Frideric Handel
Donna Brown (Soprano),
Carolyn Watkinson (Alto),
Ashley Stafford (Countertenor),
Stephen Varcoe (Bass),
Nigel Robson (Tenor)
John Eliot Gardiner
English Baroque Soloists,
Written: 1736; London, England
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