you put this disc on blind and listened to the overture,
who would you think the composer was? The bubbling woodwinds
and general atmosphere point to Mendelssohn and the earlier
century; the overall underlying structure
is something older. Then, all of a sudden, you twig; it’s
the overture to Handel’s masque Acis and Galatea
deranged to fit 19th
wasn’t the first person to do this. Mozart produced his
own version of a number of Handel’s pieces, including Acis
. These reworkings were done so that the
pieces could be performed during Mozart’s day, when Handel’s
orchestration with its lack of violas and dependency on
a continuo instrument, seemed to have things missing. Mendelssohn’s
version of Acis and Galatea
was produced for similar
reasons. His version is loosely based on Mozart’s; Mozart
had added clarinets, bassoons and horns to the ensemble.
Mendelssohn beefs it up even more with flutes, trumpets
and timpani. The resulting version was intended for Berlin
Sing-Akademie of which the young Mendelssohn was a member.
Mendelssohn is associated with the Bach revival, he was
also involved in re-casting a number of Handel’s works
for use in the 19th
century thus adding to the
general Handel renaissance in 19th
One of Mendelssohn’s main aims in re-orchestrating the
work was to be able to create a more varied orchestral
sound which could illustrate, comment on and dramatise
the action. Handel’s original masque used solo voices in
the choruses, but with the increase in the size of the
choral forces it was inevitable that the orchestral accompaniment
should increase as well.
followed John Walsh’s original published score of the work,
missing out just one number, ‘As when the dove’. A number
of other arias had their da capos removed in order to speed
up the drama. Mendelssohn added a dramatic passage with
drum-roll to depict the death of Acis and included other
interludes as the drama seemed to require. The words are
sung in a German translation made by Fanny Mendelssohn.
recording, made in 2008, owes its existence to the fortuitous
discovery in 2005 of a copyist’s score of Mendelssohn’s Acis
arrangement. This was bought by the Göttingen
Handel Festspiele and the first modern performance of the
work resulted in parallel with a new edition and this CD.
cast is quite a strong one. Julia Kleiter makes a delightful
Galatea. Christoph Prégardien sings Acis with a strong
lyric voice, with just a little edge; this Acis is no wimp.
And Michael Slattery contributes a light-voiced Damon.
None of these three is ideal when it comes to the passagework.
There are moments of smudging from all of them but this
is nothing major and all compensate with singing of great
charm and musicality. Wolf Matthias Friedrich has a wonderful
time as Polyphemus; his account is not quite as comic as
that of such classics as Owen Brannigan. But he balances
menace with humour and his account of ‘O ruddier than the
cherry’ (‘Du röter als die Kirsche’) is one to which I
NDR Choir and FestspielOrchester Göttingen make fine contributions,
with the orchestra giving us a convincingly Mendelssohnian
sound. Nicholas McGegan directs everything with a light
hand. He certainly does not try to make us believe that
this is Handel but a hybrid which deserves to be taken
on its own terms.
CD booklet has an article illuminating the work’s history
along with texts in English and German.
will never be a library version of the work as you will
always want to have a recording of one of Handel's original
versions. But McGegan and his forces make a convincing
and charming case for Mendelssohn’s delightful reworking.