Notes and Editorial Reviews
Song for St. Cecilia’s Day; Look Down, Harmonious Saint;
Concerto Grosso in B?,
Mary Bevan (sop); Ed Lyon (ten); Richard Neville-Towle, cond; Ludus Baroque
DELPHIAN 34110 (79:55)
Ludus Baroque has already made a well-received recording of Handel’s other oratorio with a Dryden text,
Song for St.
is joined by two works from the same year, 1739, and almost the same season. After composing the
in ten days (!), Handel wrote the 12 concerti grossi for strings. The cantata
Look Down, Harmonious Saint
was composed in 1736, and was intended, scholars say, to accompany
It was revised in 1742. The Dryden poems were decades old when Handel got to them, and his were not the first musical versions. But they clearly appealed to him, to his dramatic instincts, and to his love of musical effects and gorgeous melody. The three works presented here are logically connected as well as intriguingly varied. I don’t know of another disc that contains them all: at just under 80 minutes, they barely fit. Luckily, they are beautifully recorded, crisply played, and well sung.
Song for St. Cecilia’s Day
is the major work here. After the brisk overture, tenor Ed Lyon sings “From harmony, from heav’nly harmony,” commands the elements to “arise ye more than dead,” and waits as the orchestra organizes itself in darting phrases. The world is organized to the power of Music. Music’s role becomes more specific afterwards. What follows is the ravishing melody to the words “What passion cannot Musick raise and quell,” sung here by Mary Bevan. It’s lovely on its own, admittedly with a big vibrato and heavily rolled r’s, but I find Felicity Lott’s singing in the Trevor Pinnock recording (on Archiv) more touching despite its quicker tempo. The Pinnock may be the key competition for the
Still, Ludus Baroque has the advantage in recorded sound, and perhaps in Lyon’s singing of such arias as “The trumpet’s loud clangour.” I gather from this short part of the poem that Dryden was no militarist: the compelling argument for charging forward is that “’tis too late for retreat.” (I imagine soldiers asking, Are you sure?) The orchestral playing is compelling, here and in the concerto grosso. The short cantata is given over to the tenor: on recordings, it seems to be an afterthought. I have it at the tail end of a recording of
It is therefore easy to recommend this new disc for its stylish playing, generally pleasing singing, and for its repertoire.
FANFARE: Michael Ullman
Dryden’s Song for St Cecilia’s Day drew something special from Handel’s imagination in his 1739 setting. The great poem on the subject of music receives additional eloquence through vocal writing of masterly purpose and orchestral writing imbued with striking colours. The Edinburgh-based Ludus Baroque presents its qualities with unusual vividness in this spacious and measured performance under Richard Neville-Towle, with particular highlights in Rachel Moss’s ethereal flute solo, Christopher Suckling’s resonant cello and the gentle warmth of Jan Waterfield’s organ playing. In fact the whole choral and orchestral tableau is marvellously realised here in an acoustic that combines richness with presence.
Superb vocal solos, too, from Mary Bevan’s long-breathed soprano, benefiting from her dedication to textual meaning as well as her sweetness of tone; and from tenor Ed Lyon, who proves equally communicative with the text and in delicacy of expression, as well as convincingly martial where needed. Lyon is allotted the bonus of a much rarer work, the 1736 cantata Look Down, Harmonious Saint, a 1736 setting of Newburgh Hamilton originally intended to supplement a performance of Alexander’s Feast; it’s a less distinctive text than Dryden’s but well worth encountering. The 1739 Concerto Grosso, Op. 6 No. 7 too, is beautifully presented.
Performance: 5 (out of 5); Sound: 5 (out of 5)
-- George Hall, BBC Music Magazine Read less
Works on This Recording
Ode for St Cecilia's Day, HWV 76 by George Frideric Handel
Mary Bevan (Soprano),
Ed Lyon (Tenor)
Written: 1739; London, England
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