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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1751)
Acis and Galatea (1718) [84.25]
Dame Joan Sutherland (soprano) – Galatea: Sir Peter Pears (tenor) – Acis: Owen Brannigan (bass) – Polyphemus: David Galliver (tenor) – Damon: St Anthony Singers: Philomusica of London/Sir Adrian Boult
rec. Watford Town Hall, 31 May and 2-4 June 1959
Two recitals rec. unspecified dates, 1961 [60.45]
PRISTINE PACO149 [67.15 + 76.55]

When I was performing in the chorus of a school production of Acis and Galatea in the early 1960s this set of Handel’s masque conducted by Sir Adrian Boult was the only representation of the work in English catalogues; an earlier 1951 version under the baton of Walter Goehr, featuring Margaret Ritchie and Richard Lewis, had curiously only ever appeared on LPs in the United States. Like that earlier recording, Boult generally adopted the standard edition of the score edited by Sir Joseph Barnby (1838-96) and published by Novello. This was an amalgamation of various versions of Handel’s score, largely guided by Mozart’s performing edition but with the latter’s German text rendered back into the original English; in typically Victorian style, Barnby made no attempt to explain his decisions regarding the musical text in the undated publication. It was only subsequently that I came to understand that these decisions were of no small significance, since Handel had made a number of alterations to his original 1718 score later in his career enlarging it from its original chamber proportions. These alternative versions have since made their due appearances on record, along with Mozart’s German-language edition, but the recording under consideration has a firm claim to be the first complete commercial set ever issued on a worldwide basis.

But is it really complete? Barnby accepted the deletion of the role of Coridon (found in Handel’s 1718 original but removed by the composer from his 1739 published score) but Boult went further. Presumably wishing to avoid Goehr’s extravagant presentation on three LP discs (in the USA) Boult made the drastic decision to remove the da capo sections from eight of the arias, leaving the central sections in place but in most cases following them with a straightforward orchestral ritornello to bring each of the mutilated repeats to a conclusion. Indeed only Acis’s Love in her eyes escaped this cavalier treatment. This did however succeed in bringing the whole work within the compass of two Oiseau-Lyre LPs, and Chandos then released the recording on a single CD by making further cuts designed to highlight the contribution of Joan Sutherland. (The unabridged tapes had been released on Decca’s Serenata label in 1993, but this version has long disappeared from the catalogues.) Indeed it was not until 1978 that a recording of Acis and Galatea emerged with a genuine claim to completeness; in fact two of them in the same year, one on DG conducted by John Eliot Gardiner and one on Argo conducted by Neville Marriner. The former was in its turn the progenitor of the many subsequent issues which adhered to period practice and/or versions of the score.

In the meantime, the poor old Boult effort, clumsily abbreviated and shorn of any chances for the period ornamentation which might have usefully graced the missing da capo sections, rather languished in the doldrums. Perhaps it is about time to rescue it from that situation, treating it as a historical document of the practices of the 1950s in the field of Handel scholarship. And as such it was certainly an improvement on many such efforts which were around at the time.

In the first place the solo singing remains in the forefront of Handelian interpretation. To assemble a cast including Joan Sutherland, Peter Pears and Owen Brannigan would even then have been an event of considerable noteworthiness; nowadays it would be regarded as quite exceptional. The bluff hearty style of Brannigan has a certain period flavour about it, but even so his handling of the elaborate figurations of his vocal line puts many modern practitioners to shame. Peter Pears could sometimes sound precious in his delicate spinning of notes in early music, but his assumption of the semi-heroic role of the shepherd in Act Two is here as convincing as his more lilting pastoral approach to the earlier arias. And I presume that even at this late date nobody needs to come to the defence of Joan Sutherland in her command of every note of her agile negotiation of her role, except perhaps to note with approval that her English diction in this early recording is crystal clear in a manner which sometimes eluded her in later years. And all three have exactly the right sort of voices to manage Handel’s music, with none of the transpositions and mutilations which were endemic in many other recordings of the scores during that era. Unfortunately the pallid David Galliver sounds rather over-parted in this company; his UK career came to end a few years later when he went to Australia to become a music professor in Adelaide.

It is sometimes forgotten that Boult was one of the early pioneers of Handel performance who made a serious attempt to come to terms with eighteenth century performance style – his 1954 recording of The Messiah cleared away generations of Mozartian and later Victorian accretions – and here in 1959 he adheres closely to the size of orchestral forces that Handel would have expected in his lifetime (if not the chamber scoring of the 1718 original) with recorders prominently featured. And he maintains a pace that avoids any hint of sentimentality or false emotion. Thurston Dart, who provides a lively and responsive harpsichord continuo, was presumably responsible also for some emendations to the Barnby edition of the score: the re-assignment of the choral alto lines to tenor (in line with Handel’s original), and the elimination of the choral repeat of the Happy we duet at the end of Act One.

Handelian scholars will continue nonetheless to regard this recording as a far from accurate representation of the composer’s intentions, and its principal appeal will continue to be for those who wish to enjoy the artistry of Sutherland, Pears and Brannigan at the very peak of their powers. We are also given a bonus in the shape of a second reading of Polyphemus’s O ruddier than the cherry with a treble recorder obbligato instead of the sopranino recorder featured in the complete performance. This is a completely different rendition, slightly slower, where Brannigan adds some additional ornamentation. Elsewhere Pears also furnishes some slight embellishments, and Sutherland adds some free decoration to her lines more liberally in accordance with Handelian practice. Unlike many baroque performances of this period, the treatment of appogiature at cadences is correctly elided in accordance with period practice. Ten years ago, reviewing the Chandos excerpts for this site, Jonathan Woolf referred to the set as “a splendid example of technical and lyric superiority in action.” This Pristine refurbishment can only serve to reinforce that encomium.

And what makes this reissue doubly valuable is the addition of two Joan Sutherland recitals recorded for the BBC in 1961 (after her emergence onto the international stage) accompanied by her husband Richard Bonynge on piano and harpsichord. In the very early stages of his conducting career Bonynge could sometimes be rather unsure in his touch; but his keyboard accompaniment here is a model of sympathy, with a use of inflection that ideally complements his wife’s voice. And the recitals themselves are rarities indeed; it does not appear that the second recital with harpsichord was ever actually broadcast by the BBC (although I find this hard to believe). As will be seen from the list of contents appended to this review, there are a number of items here which Sutherland does not appear to have recorded elsewhere, and the wide-ranging selection includes such unlikely pieces as a song by Spohr with harpsichord accompaniment and a popular song from 1916. Andrew Rose in his producer’s note explains that there was some distortion on the original recordings, but this has been carefully rectified and is nowhere apparent in this remastering. Some of the items in the first recital – those by Dalayrac, Bononcini and Arne – do appear to have surfaced in a miscellaneous collection issued by Melodram back in 1985 (with a CD release in 1990), and Sutherland did record most of the items in the piano recital with orchestra at around the same time (the tracks finally appeared on LP in 1982). But although I am sure that all of the individual items must already have made an appearance on one disc or another, collectors will be grateful to have the complete recitals gathered together as here, quite apart from the improvement in sound.

As is usual with Pristine releases, there is limited information provided with the discs but purchasers will receive an mp3 download which will in turn furnish texts and translations as well as copies of the full and vocal scores of Acis and Galatea, although I am unsure if this applies also to the recital items. It would be interesting to see what edition of the score is given in the context of this performance, although the provision of it is of itself a very valuable addition to the issue. The division of Acis between the two discs is unfortunately (just at the highly dramatic moment of Acis’s death), as is the removal of the alternative version of O ruddier than the cherry to the second CD, robbing the listener of the chance to programme it as a replacement. Notes on the rare items included in the recitals would also have been welcome; the information below has been culled from a variety of other sources.

Paul Corfield Godfrey

Recital Contents
RECITAL 1 with Richard Bonynge (piano)
Nicolas DALAYRAC (1753-1809)
Nina (1786): Quand la bien aimé reviendra [3.56]
Giovanni BONONCINI (1670-1747)
Griselda (1722): Per la Gloria [4.58]
William BOYCE (1711-79)
Solomon (1742): Tell me lovely shepherd [3.49]
Thomas ARNE (1710-78)
Love in a village (1762): The traveller benighted [1.56]
Giovanni PAISIELLO (1740-1816)
La bella molinaria (1790): Nel cor più non mi sento [4.01]
William SHIELD (1748-1829)
Rosina (1781): Light as thistledown: Whilst with village maids I stray: When William at Eve [7.03]
 
RECITAL 2 with Richard Bonynge (harpsichord)
Giovanni PERGOLESI (1710-36)
Nina [spurious] [2.38]
Martin y SOLER
(1754-1806)
Una cosa rara (1786): Dolce mi parve un di [3.01] 
Johann Simone MAYR
(1763-1845)
Che originale (1798): Che dici  [2.53]
George Frederick HANDEL
(1685-1751)
Samson (1743): With plaintive notes [4.19]
Thomas ARNE
(1710-78)
Love’s Labours Lost (1740): When daisies pied [2.36]
Joseph HAYDN
(1732-1809)
Folksongs: Pastoral Song: She never told her love [7.50]
Ludwig SPOHR
(1784-1859)
Zemire und Azor (1819): Rose, softly blooming [3.16]
Charles Edward HORN
(1786-1849)
Cherry Ripe [1.55]
Giulia RECLI
(1890-1970)
Bergerette (1916) [1.59]

 

 




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