Dunedin Consort - Handel: Ode for St Cecilia's Day - Financial Times

There is still time to acquire a new disc for St. Cecilia’s Day. As one might expect, the annual celebration of the patron saint of musicians on November 22 has prompted some memorable music, notably odes by Purcell and others in the late 17th century.

It is probably not a coincidence that Handel looked back to the poetry of Dryden, most celebrated of Purcell’s collaborators, when he came to choose the text for his Ode for St Cecilia’s Day in 1739. Its world view of creation growing out of a “heav’nly harmony” endows music with a sacred power that must have appealed to the composer of great oratorios.

What resulted was a tuneful and buoyantly celebratory work for soprano and tenor soloists, chorus and orchestra. The music remained popular enough throughout the 18th century for Mozart to make his own updated arrangement of it. Fine recordings exist of both versions, though Handel’s own naturally takes precedence.

John Butt comes to this recording with a reputation as a keen and individual thinker in the Baroque repertoire. His performance of the Ode for St Cecilia’s Day, recorded live at the Misteria Paschalia Festival in Krakow, treads a satisfying path between the detailed, dance-based style of early period-instrument performers like Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the more vigorous manner of Charles Mackerras or John Eliot Gardiner. Everything is at once graceful and uplifting.

Soprano Carolyn Sampson and tenor Ian Bostridge are engaging soloists, Sampson sounding especially luminous. The Polish Radio Choir sings Dryden’s text with impressive clarity and the Dunedin Consort shines in the solo opportunities for cello, trumpet, flute and organ with which Handel hymns music’s sacred spheres. The disc is completed with Handel’s Concerto Grosso in A Minor, Op.6 No.4.

09 November 2018