Handel Alceste

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COMPOSERS: George Frideric Handel
LABELS: Chaconne
ALBUM TITLE: Handel Alceste
WORKS: Alceste
PERFORMER: Lucy Crowe (soprano), Benjamin Hulett (tenor), Andrew Foster-Williams (bass-baritone); Early Opera Company/Christian Curnyn
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN0788

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Alceste was planned as a lavish collaboration between the impresario John Rich, the celebrated set-designer Servandoni and the rambunctious author of Roderick Random, Tobias Smollett, but it never made it to the stage. Notes by the librettist Thomas Morell hint that the play may have been cancelled owing to Handel’s incidental music being too difficult for the cast. However, it seems that Rich may simply have decided that an adaptation of a drama by Euripides was too risky a venture. This was, after all, a period in which the tastes of the London audience were as volatile as the explosives that had destroyed Servandoni’s Temple of Peace during the Green Park performance of Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks.

Christian Curnyn’s delicious recording of the surviving score is amplified with a sinfonia from Admeto and a passacaglia from Radamisto. These fizzy, sexily swung orchestral additions emphasise the parallels between Handel’s incidental music and Purcell’s music for King ArthurThe Fairy Queen and The Tempest.

Though Alceste was written in 1749-50 and features one aria that could only date from that time (the exquisite lullaby ‘Gentle Morpheus, son of night’), it observes the contours of a Restoration masque. Alcestis’s journey to the Underworld is enchanting, with Curnyn’s fleet strings, intimately proportioned chorus, and polished soloists, soprano Lucy Crowe, tenor Benjamin Hulett and bass-baritone Andrew Foster-Williams. The choral writing marries the pastoral delicacy of Handel’s Acis and Galatea with stylings from Purcell’s Odes to St Cecilia, showing Handel’s feel for local tastes, and Curnyn’s perceptive approach to Handel.

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Anna Picard