Acis and Galatea (original Cannons 1718 version)
Susan Hamilton (sop) Galatea
Nicholas Mulroy (ten) Acis
Matthew Brook (bass) Polyphemus
Thomas Hobbs (ten) Damon
Nicholas Hurndall Smith (ten) Coridon
Dunedin Consort & Players / John Butt
Handel’s Acis and Galatea has been recorded often but the original version, written for small-scale performance by only five singers (soprano, three tenors and bass) and a small band at Cannons in 1718, has almost never been properly revived. This beggars belief because the Cannons version text makes more dramatic sense and the musical scale of it is charming. It is certainly among Handel’s most perfect creations. Thankfully, John Butt has researched the performing conditions and text of the Cannons Acis. The philological aspects of the Dunedin Consort & Players’ new recording are impeccable and, better still, the performance is utterly magical.
The Sinfonia brims with unforced personality, after which the pastoral chorus ‘O the pleasure of the plains’ is relaxed, with the oboes given enough space to weave their imitative lines clearly. The five singers and the band are beautifully in proportion with each other and Linn’s sound recording is stunningly good. Susan Hamilton’s light, articulate soprano is preferable to an operatic voice in the role of Galatea. Nicholas Mulroy’s Acis is resonant and suave, combining muscularity with elegance. The madrigal-like beauty of ‘Wretched lovers’ is breathtaking: the blend and understanding between the five singers are deeply satisfying, and the menacing music to convey the arrival of Polyphemus is astutely integrated. Matthew Brook’s Polyphemus is extrovert, powerful and amusing but also arouses pity and tenderness from the listener in ‘I rage, I melt, I burn’. The dialogue between the hapless would-be seducer and the disgusted Galatea is superbly enacted by Brook and Hamilton. The roles of Damon and Coridon are admirably sung by Nicholas Hurndall Smith and Thomas Hobbs.
Butt’s direction from the harpsichord is a model of taste and style, and he insightfully conveys the elusive changing tone of the story from pastoral romp into personal tragedy. Previous versions of merit still possess enduring appeal but the Dunedins have transformed the way in which we can understand and enjoy Handel’s lovely early English masterpiece.
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