Parnasso in festa
David Hansen, Robin Johannsen, Kangmin Justin Kim, Jenny Högström, Silke Gäng, Francesca Ascioti, Luca Tittoto; La Cetra, Barockorchester & Vokalensemble Basel/Andrea Marcon
Pentatone PTC 5186 643 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Not an opera, but rather a festa teatrale or serenata, Parnasso in festa, per gli sponsali di Teti e Peleo (Festivities on Parnassus in Honour of the Nuptials of Thetis and Peleus) was written to celebrate the wedding of George II’s daughter Princess Anne to the Dutch Prince William IV. It was initially performed at the Haymarket Theatre the night before their wedding on March 13 1734.
Ever the pragmatist, Handel would have considered it an occasional piece and therefore adapted for it a good deal of music composed for earlier works – notably the oratorio Athalia (1733), which had not yet been heard in London. In the event, the score – which was presented with a top-flight cast, as well as a single set and costumes – was heard three more times and even revived in later seasons.
This partially live recording was made in a generous church acoustic that verges on the swimmy and thus prevents the otherwise focused choir and characterful orchestra from registering with ideal clarity under conductor Andrea Marcon, whose light-textured, dance-like approach is nevertheless welcome.
The soloists are mixed. David Hansen’s Apollo is uneven, at best light, graceful and even virtuosic, at worst insubstantial, but his fellow countertenor Kangmin Justin Kim is steady and smooth as Orfeo, his aria with solo flute ‘Spira al sen celeste ardore’ a delicate highlight. Good with text, Robin Johannsen’s Clio provides neat and attractive vocalism, while grander-scale soprano Jenny Högström’s vivid Calliope matches nicely bass Luca Tittoto’s vigorous Marte.