Handel's Acis & Galatea Live - Dunedin Consort - The Guardian
Following reduced-scale recordings of Messiah and the Matthew Passion, the Dunedin Consort and director John Butt have brought their revisionist approach to Handel's pastoral entertainment Acis and Galatea, with a series of performances timed to coincide with its CD release. One of the composer's first large-scale English works, Acis is one of those curious Handelian hybrids: not simply opera in English, yet with unmistakable operatic influences. Butt has chosen the original version as performed at the Cannons estate, reducing the performing forces to five singers - soloists who also double as chorus - with the unusual vocal disposition of soprano, three tenors and bass, plus a dozen instrumentalists.
Some works are more successful with this cut-down approach than others; musical power risks being jettisoned along with the extraneous performers, but here it seems natural, the transparent textures of the small ensemble lending a madrigalian quality to the choruses and emphasising the dramatic nature of the piece. In the Edinburgh performance, as on the recording, Butt kept the action moving with his customary energy, fleet-footed but not unduly driven. Susan Hamilton and Nicholas Mulroy successfully painted the bliss of the titular lovers in the first act through their succession of sweetly idyllic airs, though they were overshadowed by Matthew Brook's scenery-chewing turn as the villain, Polyphemus, in an altogether more operatic take.
Acis is a full-length work in its own right, though here it was prefaced by the premiere of William Sweeney's Songs of Connacht, not a choral work but a song cycle for tenor (shared here by Mulroy and Thomas Hobbs) and period instrument ensemble. Based on translated Gaelic poems, it is atmospheric, sensitively written and worth hearing again, though perhaps in a different context.