Gerard Hoffnung CDs
Frideric HANDEL (1685 – 1759)
Ode for St. Cecilia’s Day, HWV 76 (1739) [44.21]
Concerto for Organ No. 13, HWV 295 (1739) [12.11]
Zadok the Priest, HWV 258 (1727) [4.59]
Jeremy Ovenden (tenor) (Ode)
Francesco Cera (organ) (Concerto)
Coro della Radio Svizzera (Ode, Zadok)
I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis
rec. 10-13 March 2005 (Ode), 28 April 2008 (Concerto),
1 June 2005 (Zadok) Auditorium RSI, Lugano, Switzerland
1683 a group called ‘The Musical Society’ held a public
concert on 22 November celebrating St. Cecilia. This became
an annual celebration until 1703, after which the tradition
lapsed. During this time Purcell wrote two odes - for the
1683 and 1684 celebrations. The poet John Dryden produced
two poems which were set to music, for the 1687 and 1697
events. The first was A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day,
set to music by Draghi and the second was Alexander’s
Feast, set to music by Jeremiah Clarke.
the time Handel arrived in London these St. Cecilia celebrations
had lapsed. However for a reason unknown, in 1711 he wrote
an Italian cantata Splenda l’alba in oriente which
seems to have made reference to St. Cecilia. Then in 1736
he set Dryden’s ode Alexander’s Feast which he performed
as part of his concert series, where his English language
works were by now well established. The first performance
of Alexander’s Feast was padded out with concertos
and an Italian cantata devoted to St. Cecilia. The performance
of the ode was very successful and it was published in
full score; which probably indicates that Handel had no
intention of performing it again.
following seasons Handel devoted to Italian opera then
in 1739 he revived Alexander’s Feast as part of
a season of oratorios. For its 1739 outing Alexander’s
Feast was paired with a setting of Dryden’s shorter St.
Cecilia Ode. The soloists were La Francesina, soprano
Elisabeth du Parc, who sang much of Handel’s oratorios
and John Beard, the distinguished tenor whose career was
intimately linked to Handel’s performances and for whom
Handel wrote the title role in Samson.
the concert was repeated, Handel never again paired the
two Cecilian odes. Probably the combination was just too
much for people to take. Instead he revived the Ode
for St. Cecilia’s Day in tandem with other works.
opening and closing phrases of Dryden’s Ode deal with the
birth and death of the universe. Those in the middle praise
the various musical instruments. With its references to
the ‘tuneful voice of God’, the text places St. Cecilia
in a distinctly subservient role. The all-encompassing
subject matter proved a suitable challenge for Handel’s
new recording comes from the Swiss group, I Barocchisti,
under their conductor Diego Fasolis. As soon as disc opens
we are treated to a crisp and lively account of Handel’s
fine overture - he was so pleased with it, he turned it
into a Concerto Grosso. The group’s performance is vivid
and lively without ever sounding rushed, you want to hear
what comes next.
what comes next is not quite on the same level as the overture,
despite some sterling support from the instrumental ensemble.
Soprano Julia Gooding must have been having something of
an off day as her usually limpid tones sound strained,
particularly at the top of the voice. This is music which
needs to sound relaxed and effortless - and here it simply
doesn’t. The tenor soloist, Jeremy Ovenden, is in slightly
more reliable form but his tone tends to be rather sharp
and pinched. His performance is satisfactory, but certainly
is not redolent of one of the greatest tenors of the age,
as John Beard was.
Coro della Radio Svizzera acquit themselves admirably,
especially as they are singing in English. Granted though
that their English sounds rather occluded and their diction
is rather muffled. As is often the case with foreign choirs
they simply do not make enough of the words. After all
this is England’s finest (adopted) composer setting one
of England’s greatest poets. Surely the intention would
be that the words were comprehensible. This is a performance
which does not quite live up to its opening promise.
Ode is accompanied by a Handel’s organ concerto: No. 13
HWV 295, ‘The Cuckoo and the Nightingale’ and the
Coronation Anthem Zadok the Priest.
the organ concerto the soloist is Francesco Cera who seems
to be a member of I Barocchisti. No mention is made of
the type of organ which he is playing, but it sounds to
be quite a small scale one. This performance is attractive
and lively but I would have liked the organ to be slightly
more spot-lit, perhaps even a little louder. As it was,
there were passages where Cera could almost have been playing
a rather lively continuo part. Perhaps it all comes down
to bravura, something which Cera’s discreet playing lacks
and which Handel’s playing certainly had in spades.
the Priest is a sure-fire
hit and proves a fine conclusion to the disc. The Coro
della Radio Svizzera prove to be entirely at ease with
Handel’s style and sing with attractive firmness of tone,
clarity of line and crisp rhythm. My only complaint is
that their opening entry sounded rather too loud compared
to the orchestra.
CD contains a booklet essay and biographies but no text,
which is unfortunate as Dryden’s text is fascinating. You
really need it in front of you when listening to the disc,
especially when dealing with such lines as ‘Then hot
and cold, and moist and dry / In order to their stations
I was looking for a recommended recording of the St.
Cecilia Ode then I would be tempted to suggest Robert
King’s version on Hyperion with Carolyn Sampson in radiant
form. Appropriately King pairs the ode with the Italian
cantata Cecilia, volgi un sguargo which Handel included
in the first performance of Alexander’s Feast.
is heartening to see Handel’s English works making their
way amongst non-English speaking groups. If this disc does
not quite live up to its opening promise, it’s certainly
good enough to make me look forward to the group’s next
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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