Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Music Webmaster Len Mullenger:

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 minutes]
Crotchet   Amazon UK AmazonUS

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.

Peter Bates



Return to Index

Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: - The UK's Biggest Video Store Concert and Show tickets
Musicians accessories
Click here to visit