Handel: Ode for St Cecilia’s Day; Cecilia, volgi un sguardo

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LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: Ode for St Cecilia’s Day; Cecilia, volgi un sguardo
PERFORMER: Carolyn Sampson (soprano), James Gilchrist (tenor); The King’s Consort & Choir/Robert King
What composer could resist the opportunities for musical imagery in Dryden’s Ode – ‘The trumpet’s loud clangour’, here with Crispian Steele-Perkins never in better form; Rachel Brown’s exquisitely ‘soft complaining flute’, the Consort’s bitingly focused ‘Sharp violins’ – describing articulation rather than intonation! Robert King beats the ageing process by refreshing his choir with regular injections of new voices: they remain full of zest, developing great energy in Handel’s cleverly notated accelerando in the Ode’s final chorus. Both the Ode and the Cecilian cantata (new to the catalogue, and a gem), make great demands on soprano and tenor soloists. Carolyn Sampson has fine control of taxing passage-work. The aria ‘Sei cara’ in the cantata presents her with a cruelly leaping line which she negotiates with fine precision. My only reservation is her first appearance in the Ode, her vibrato sounding nervous and involuntary. Otherwise, she uses it as a controlled colour: almost totally suppressed where Handel sets ‘un bel seren’ (lovely peace) in a sustained aria middle-section; subtly flexed in more passionate text. James Gilchrist is superb throughout, with every note of fast passaggi perfectly placed and a remarkable ability to sustain a legato line. Excellently recorded, this as an unmissable disc of Handelian delights. George Pratt