Dixit Dominus: Handel • Scarlatti
Did Handel and Alessandro Scarlatti meet during Handel’s youthful sojourn in Rome? His early biographer John Mainwaring believed so, and it’s a question worth resurrecting given this intriguing pairing of Dixit Dominus settings. With so much structurally in common, was one a model for the other? And if so, which was the original? Handel’s compositional explosion of ecclesiastical testosterone can be precisely dated to April 1707; Scarlatti’s setting may be earlier, or possibly later…
If the similarities are striking, so too are the differences: Handel’s exuberant deployment of his five soloists and five-part chorus is conspicuously more ambitious than Scarlatti’s more circumscribed conception. When the two works go head to head (as here for the first time on disc), Scarlatti’s beautifully crafted setting is undeniably worth hearing – out to show his adopted city that ‘when in Rome’ he could ‘do as the Romans do’, only better. Yet Handel buried his Italian colleagues full fathom five with a work of irresistible vigour, charisma and harmonic inventiveness.
Little wonder, then, that the Choir of Queen’s College Oxford often sounds a touch polite in the Scarlatti, while it’s noticeably energised by Handel’s opening chorus, and the concluding ‘Gloria Patri’ proves a glorious earful. Owen Rees’s perceptive direction keeps the contrasting layers balanced and he has assembled a strong solo team – headed up by Elin Manahan Thomas and Matthew Brook – to complement the attentive playing of the Brook Street Band.