G. F. HANDEL
L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed Il Moderato;
Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, John Nelson,
conductor. Bach Choir, John Dickson chorus master. Christine Brandes, Lynne
Dawson, David Daniels, Ian Bostridge, Alastair Miles
EMI Virgin VCD 5 45417 2 8 2CD [117:59
This pastoral ode is certainly one of Handel's finest. The composer adapted
it from Milton's joyous youthful poems, L'Allegro and il Penseroso, and concluded
it with Charles Jennens' ponderous doggerel, il Moderato. As music historian
Paul Lang says, "it's difficult to follow apotheosis with homily." No matter.
The music is glorious, witty, and persistently inventive, even when the text
fails it. Yet for the most part, this recording captures the work's spirit.
Tenor Ian Bostridge is stunning, particularly in the famous "laughing chorus"
in which he evokes a polyphonic merriment that made me hold both my
sides. The impetus he imparts to every aria is truly infectious. The chorus
is equally splendid, evoking the jubilant atmosphere that Handel intended.
When it sings of "thongs of knights and barons bold," you almost seem them
looming over the hills. Countertenor David Daniels sings the touching air
"Hide me from Day's garish eye" with requisite sweetness. Previously, in
Serenade (Virgin Classics 7243 5 45400 2 8) he tended to overuse
vibrato; however, here he tones it down, producing a more subtle emotive
effect. Soprano Christine Brandes sings with grace and humor, most notably
in "Come, and trip it as you go," although she over-trills her r's at times.
Lynne Dawson seems to be missing a sense of frivolity. Her rendition of "Or
let the merry bells ring round" while skillfully sung, seems so serious.
Not quite jocund enough. When she sings "But oh! Sad virgin" with its difficult
melismas, it sounds like she's struggling, rather than making it seem effortless.
In this glorious production, hers is the only non-extraordinary performance.
There is a lot of competition out there for this piece; most notably, John
Eliot Gardiner's version on Erato (alas, missing "But oh! Sad virgin") and
Robert King's solid performance on Hyperion. In this recording John Nelson
conducts a spirited L'Allegro well worth prancing about.