WORKS: L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato
PERFORMER: Christine Brandes, Lynne Dawson (soprano), David Daniels (alto), Ian Bostridge (tenor), Alastair Miles (bass); Bach Choir, Ensemble Orchestral de Paris/John Nelson
CATALOGUE NO: VCD 5 45417 2
When it comes to recordings of Handel’s charming pastoral ode L’Allegro we are not spoiled for choice, and this version, with its distinguished line-up of soloists, will certainly catch the potential buyer’s eye. Nor do the singers disappoint: Christine Brandes’s silvery soprano is perfectly complemented by the more burnished tones of Lynne Dawson; countertenor David Daniels gives a sensitively nuanced, finely controlled performance, while Alastair Miles is an imposing bass, though his singing is at times rather blustery – unfittingly so for the equable role of Il Moderato. Most outstanding among this fine team is tenor Ian Bostridge, whose mellifluous delivery of Milton’s verse is second to none, though the closely positioned microphone seems to lend a darker tinge to his naturally light voice. It’s a shame that such arresting singing is let down by some turbid, heavily accented orchestral playing and the somewhat lacklustre direction. And while the close balance means every word of the libretto is audible, it does exacerbate the generally oppressive sound.
John Eliot Gardiner’s recording dates back 20 years and while one suspects he would perform the work differently today, his stylish account still sounds less old-fashioned than this new version. Gardiner’s soloists are well-matched, though no more exceptional than Nelson’s, but the orchestral playing is neater and more incisive, the choruses more polished. Gardiner’s, then, remains my benchmark, but there is certainly room for a first-rate new recording of the work. Kate Bolton