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LABELS: Signum
WORKS: L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato; Concerti grossi, Op. 6 Nos 1 & 3; Organ Concerto, Op. 7/1
PERFORMER: Gillian Webster (soprano), Laurence Kilsby (treble), Jeremy Ovenden (tenor), Peter Harvey (baritone), Ashley Riches (bass), William Whitehead (organ); Gabrieli Consort & Players


Handel’s librettist Charles Jennens, who wrote the text of the final section of L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato which is otherwise based on Milton, called the result an entertainment, also disclosing that the composer was ‘desirous to please the town with something of a gayer turn’. Set to music of enormous variety and character, the complete libretto contrasts the moods of the lively man with those of the melancholy man, and then rounds these off with a third section depicting what the 18th century might have regarded as the happy medium.

The composer revised the work several times, but Paul McCreesh’s version aims to get as close as possible to what was originally heard at the first performance at the Royal Theatre in Lincolns Inn Fields in 1740. Handel was in the habit of adding concertos to flesh out his oratorio performances, and though we don’t know specifically which works were chosen on this occasion, an educated guess has been made based on the keys of the following movements. This works surprisingly well, with two Concerti Grossi from the Opus 6 set receiving lively treatment from the Gabrieli Players under McCreesh’s vital direction, with William Whitehead adding in the characterful colours of a recreated instrument of 1745 in the B flat Organ Concerto Op. 7 No. 1.


The choral elements are scrupulously handled by the Gabrieli Consort, and the soloists are choice. Gillian Webster is the light, bright soprano, Laurence Kilsby the delightful treble, tenor Jeremy Ovenden brings his words to life, while Peter Harvey provides a solid baritone and Ashley Riches a confident bass. George Hall