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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1750)
Ode for St Cecilia’s Day (1739)
Dorothee Mields (soprano)
Mark Wilde (tenor)
Alsfelder Vokalensemble
Concerto Polacco/Wolfgang Helbich
Recorded August 1999 in the Maria Magdalenen Kirche, Templin
NAXOS 8.554752 [48.44]

 

This isn’t an easy work successfully to bring off as several recordings have shown. And it’s to this performance’s credit that so much is neat and stylish and well thought through – although it won’t dislodge primary recommendations. The Concerto Polacco plays the opening Overture and Interlude with crisp attention to detail and the various instrumental soloists perform with good phrasing throughout – organ, flute, and cello principally. The chorus sounds small but well-focused, smoothly blended, and they cope with the demands of singing in English very competently. Which leaves the solo singers; soprano Dorothee Mields is musical and has a good range, though she doesn’t quite make the most of her opportunities in the great soprano and cello aria What passion cannot Music raise where memories of April Cantelo and – wasn’t it? – cellist Anthony Pleeth are not effaced.

Mark Wilde, a fine Bach singer, colours and clothes his recitative From harmony, from heav’nly harmony with intelligence – listen to the desiccated tone he adopts for the word ‘dry’ in the phrase and moist, and dry. His tone is finely focused in The trumpet’s loud clangour, the tenor’s moment of declamatory glory, albeit there’s a bit of an acoustic veil over the choral contribution here. Things could be more incisive and exciting. The principal flautist shines in The soft complaining flute and the organ is to the fore in But Oh! What art can teach.

The competition is severe. Amongst such Gomez, Tear and Ledger on ASV still exercise a persuasive hold on allegiances (all male choir, modern instruments), preferable in terms of immediacy and idiomatic choral singing to Palmer, Rolfe Johnson and Harnoncourt on Teldec unless your priorities are those of original instruments. I’ve not heard the Hogwood on Arabesque. Short playing time.

Jonathan Woolf


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