Handel: Apollo e Dafne; The Alchemist (incidental music, arr. from Handel’s ‘Rodrigo’)

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3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Apollo e Dafne; The Alchemist (incidental music, arr. from Handel’s ‘Rodrigo’)
PERFORMER: Olga Pasichnyk (soprano), Robert Pomakov (bass); European Union Baroque Orchestra/Roy Goodman
CATALOGUE NO: 8.555712
Apollo e Dafne, with its melodious arias and colourful scoring (oboes, flute, bassoon, strings and continuo), is among Handel’s finest cantatas. Composed probably in 1709 or 1710, this chamber cantata a due (for soprano and bass soloists) depicts a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses: the god Apollo, failing to seduce the nymph Daphne, chases her through the forest, whereupon she is miraculously transformed into a laurel bush (over which Apollo sings a last, poignant lament).

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The youngsters of the EUBO do a fair job without ever sounding completely at ease with the music. This criticism extends to the singers, particularly to bass Robert Pomakov. Aged 19, he shows great promise but as yet seems insufficiently au fait with the dramas and subtleties of Handel’s music. Certainly this version of Apollo e Dafne sounds lacklustre compared to Chandos’s 1995 recording, where accomplished Handelians Nancy Argenta, Michael George and Collegium Musicum 90 set the benchmark with technically assured yet vividly expressive performances that still sound amazingly fresh.

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Chandos’s coupling, the beautiful solo cantata ‘Crudel tiranno Amor’, is essential listening too, which cannot be said for the Naxos offering – incidental theatre music that was stolen from Handel’s Rodrigo overture and rearranged by an unknown hand. Graham Lock