WORKS: Acis and Galatea
PERFORMER: Paul Agnew, Sophie Daneman, Patricia Petibon, Joseph Cornwell, Alan Ewing; Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
CATALOGUE NO: 3984-25505-2
Acis and Galatea, the masque that Handel composed for his employer, the Duke of Chandos, in 1718 and performed privately at the Duke’s residence, Cannons, in Edgware, remains one of his most alluring and charming works. Handel applied his fertile imagination to a simple plot, turning out magical number after number. This new recording – of a text which includes an extra part for Coridon, who sings what is otherwise Damon’s air ‘Would you gain the tender creature’ in Act II – is first-rate. William Christie and Les Arts Florissants invest in this music their Gallic qualities – lightness of phrasing and rhythm, a certain easy elegance – and wholly to its benefit. Paul Agnew’s Acis strikes the right tone, tender and poised to perfection in ‘As when the dove laments her love’, elsewhere (‘Love sounds th’alarm’) heroic. Joseph Cornwell sings Coridon’s aria quite beautifully, with a limpid recorder obbligato into the bargain. Patricia Petibon, as Damon, sings radiantly, combining with a melting oboe obbligato in ‘Consider, fond shepherd’ (and how wonderfully Handel paints that text, with a built-in pause for thought after the word ‘consider’). Alan Ewing’s Polypheme melts, rages and burns just as he should. Sophie Daneman’s Galatea, wondrously gentle and restrained, has a marvellous lustrous quality to the voice. This reading is at once more polished and characterful than Robert King and the King’s Consort’s version – strictly the 1718 text – for Hyperion, previously my benchmark (Hyperion CDA66361/2), and also several degrees more refined and intimate than John Eliot Gardiner’s late Seventies version for DG Archiv.