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Esther - Dunedin Consort - Early Music Review


01 August 2012
Early Music Review
Amanda Babington

As intended, Dunedin's Esther makes an ideal sequel to their recording of Acis and Galatea. The basis for both recordings is a sound scholarly reconstruction of the works as they would have been heard at the Cannons estate of James Brydges, Duke of Chandos (for whom they were composed). As John Butt's highly readable and informative notes explain, the larger forces of the autograph and early manuscript copies of Esther illustrate the expansion of the musical establishment at Cannons when compared to the smaller forces of Acis in its 1718 reconstruction. Both CDs can, therefore, be seen as a type of aural scholarship and make for a more interesting method of dissemination than many conference papers or articles. However, Esther should also appeal to listeners familiar with its later resurrection as the first English Oratorio. By comparison, the 1720 version of the work sounds rather sparse for the first couple of arias until one realizes that the beauty of this version lies in this stripped back texture where every voice and instrument can be heard in full.

This is, of course, exactly the sort of chamber work at which Dunedin excels. Their small forces and artistic embrace of individuals' sounds (both vocal and instrumental) mean that it is possible to achieve a true chamber nature in such obbligato arias as ‘Tune your harps'. Equally, the individual colours of the voices in the chorus combine to form a more three-dimensional sound than is often the case with more severely blended voices. Furthermore, this non-homogenous blend enables them to achieve variety in tone and character than many choirs, even within the slightly limited nature of Handel's writing for chorus.

James Gilchrist, Matthew Brook, Robin Blaze, Nicholas Mulroy and Susan Hamilton combine to make a formidable (and entertaining) team of voices, whose interpretation of the music and its underlying drama (or lack of in the first act) appears so convincing as to suggest an innate understanding of Handel's composition as well as the work's context in 1720. As usual, the Dunedin Consort perform as a tight and capable band and Butt once again has proved himself the master of dramatic pacing. Thoroughly recommended.


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Handel: Esther, First reconstructable version (Cannons), 1720Handel: Esther, First reconstructable version (Cannons), 1720