George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Acis and Galatea - A Masque in two acts HWV49 [101:40]
Galatea - Dawn Kotoski (soprano); Acis - David Gordon (tenor); Damon - Glenn Siebert (tenor); Polyphemus - Jan Opalach (bass)
Seattle Symphony Chorale; Seattle Symphony/Gerard Schwarz
rec. Seattle Opera House, 4-5 March 1991
no text included but available online
NAXOS 8.572745-46 [43:07 + 58:33]
Handel first made use of Ovid’s tale of Acis and Galatea in a lengthy Italian setting in 1708. His second version, wholly different musically, was ten years later. This was in English and took the form of a Masque written for performance at Cannons, the home of the Duke of Chandos. The authorship of the text is uncertain, contributions may have been made by John Gay, Alexander Pope and John Hughes. The version heard here is in two Acts and is what is usually heard. With five soloists together with chorus and orchestra, a straightforward plot and a relatively short length, its popularity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is understandable. The same goes for Naxos’ desire to have a version of it in their catalogue although they did at one time have one by The Scholars Baroque Ensemble which I have not heard.
The present performance was recorded over twenty years ago and originally issued by Delos. Its main virtue is that of competence but I can see little to recommend it beyond that. The soloists sing prettily - in the case of the upper voices - but with little musical or dramatic character. Jan Opalach makes rather more of Polyphemus, but even then compared with earlier versions this is comparatively staid. The chorus are satisfactory even if like the orchestra neatness is the main characteristic. Gerard Schwarz conducts an essentially featureless performance, strong on delicacy and general prettiness but weak on real Handelian fire, without which this Masque can become a very pallid affair. In addition not only are modern instruments used, including a piccolo in place of Handel’s sopranino recorder, but they are played in a style which was old-fashioned even before historically informed performance became the norm.
All in all, given the strength of the recorded competition which includes a very characterful abridged version with Joan Sutherland and Owen Brannigan on Chandos Opera in English (also available complete on Eloquence) and versions conducted by such Handelian experts as John Eliot Gardiner, Robert King and William Christie, it is hard to see to whom the present version might appeal. I hope that Naxos will recognise this and try again with a version from one of the many period instrument groups they now use. Even with the competition there is plenty of room for a good new recording, but it might have been kinder not to have reissued the present version which does not show these undoubtedly distinguished performers in a very flattering light.
Strong on delicacy and general prettiness but weak on real Handelian fire.