Handel's Acis & Galatea - Dunedin Consort - SA-CD.net

Yet another wonderful outing of the Dunedin Consort under John Butt.

First, a declaration of interest: a school friend and former youth orchestra compatriot is the bassoonist here and it is wonderful to hear her on SACD for the first time (to my knowledge); that the bassoon has a fairly minor role (mainly as support to the continuo) will hopefully not colour my views too greatly in the minds of others.

Opening with a sprightly overture in G minor (reflecting the tragedy to come later), Butt and his players take on the presto marking with ease and point this bustling piece very gracefully - it is quite similar in mood to the famous Queen of Sheba. The action (such that it is) opens with a chorus (the vocal soloists take their "other" role here) that proclaims the happy state of affairs at the start of the work; Acis (Nicholas Mulroy) and Galatea (Susan Hamilton) love each other (despite Galatea being a nymph and Acis being human) and the first act is a celebration of that love that ends with the wonderful and ecstatic (in this performance at least) duet "Happy, happy we!" - the articulation here in the orchestra has to be heard to be believed. Hamilton is in fresh voice and has adopted a wonderfully light timbre for this recording and Mulroy matches her in every way - a very good pairing.

In the second act, more of the action occurs; the mountain Polyphemus (Matthew Brook) blows his top in jealousy (sic) and after killing Acis, there are the inevitable laments before Galatea transfigures Acis into a fountain whereupon a calm pastoral number brings this work to a close. Brook is a commanding figure and his rich bass easily dominates (without being domineering). Thomas Hobbs (Damon - a small part in both acts) and Nicholas Hurndall Smith (Coridon - a small part in act 2 only) are of a similarly high standard to the others and the Dunedin play to the same standards as they have so ably demonstrated in their earlier releases.

The Canons performing version refers to Handel's then employer and the forces that were at his disposal but there are few significant textual departures from the conventional score; the most obvious is the employment of recorders instead of flutes - a most appropriate one given the rich history of depicting the countryside with such instruments. The make of the instrumental forces is: 2,2,0,2,1 (strings), 2 recorders, 2 oboes, harpsichord and bassoon - this makes all the textures very light and airy, although there is enough weight at the crucial moments in act 2.

The recording is, as usual for the ensemble, made in Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh and is just as successful as previous releases from the acoustic.

Delightful and a set that really will light up a grey, miserable winters day.

SA-CD.net
11 November 2008