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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Ode for Saint Cecilia's Day, HWV 76 (1739) [50.25]
Concerto Grosso in A minor Op. 6, No. 4 [10.37]
Ian Bostridge (tenor); Carolyn Sampson (soprano)
Polish Radio Choir
Dunedin Consort/John Butt (harpsichord)
rec. 2018, Misteria Paschalia Music Festival, Krzysztof Penderecki Auditorium Hall, ICE Kraków Congress Centre, Poland
Texts included

The Dunedin Consort and director John Butt have been busy in the studio releasing a number of recordings for the Linn label, including J.S. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, Magnificat, Christmas Cantata, Violin Concertos, Brandenburg Concertos, as well as the Monteverdi Vespers 1610 and Mozart’s Requiem.

For this new Linn release, Dunedin Consort has turned its attention to Handel’s Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day, recorded at the time of the 2018 Easter Misteria Paschalia Festival at Kraków, Poland. Incidentally, director John Butt was announced as resident artistic director of the Misteria Paschalia Festival 2018. A mix of vocal and instrumental forces here, the Dunedin Consort is composed of six singers (SATB) and a complement of thirty players who use period instruments, with gut strings, period bows etc. For this recording Dunedin Consort combine with the twenty strong Polish Radio Choir and internationally renowned soloists Ian Bostridge, tenor and Carolyn Sampson, soprano.

Handel’s Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day refers to St. Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians. Annually, St. Cecilia’s day is celebrated on 22 November; the supposed date of her martyrdom. In 1739 at Theatre in Lincoln's Inn Fields, London, Handel assembled a concert programme to honour St. Cecilia’s Day which included the newly written Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day to an English text by the poet John Dryden.

This is a beautifully performed performance under John Butt’s direction which I find both inspiring and compelling and is hard to fault. The tenor Ian Bostridge sounds magnificent, His bright tone is exceptionally clear and attractive, and he performs with unerring expression and assurance. The soprano Carolyn Sampson makes a significant impression, too. She is in glorious, smooth voice, displaying splendid diction. I appreciate her effective coloratura and the ease with which she reaches her highest notes. Well prepared by Maria Piotrowska-Bogalecka, the Polish Radio Choir combine with the singers of the Dunedin Consort to provide pleasing unity but without the level of pin-point precision that can result in reduction of character. Excelling too are the orchestral players of the Dunedin Consort, who provide colourful performances with impressive individual contributions from flute, trumpet and organ. Also contained on the album is a performance of Handel’s Concerto Grosso in A minor, Op. 6, No. 4. In this engaging instrumental score, the Dunedin Consort relishes its opportunity in the spotlight. One senses the complete involvement of the players with a noticeably fresh feel and well sprung rhythms. Recording at Krzysztof Penderecki Auditorium Hall, Kraków, the engineering team excel, providing crisp detail with impressive balance between soloists, chorus and chamber orchestra. John Butt is the author of the interesting and informative booklet essay.

This album featuring the cantata Ode for Saint Cecilia’s Day is a delight from start to finish. With every measure under complete control, John Butt directs an outstanding performance crammed with vitality and colour.

Michael Cookson

Previous reviews: Roy Westbrook ~ Brian Wilson

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