Handel: L’allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato

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COMPOSERS: Handel
LABELS: Hyperion
WORKS: L’allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato
PERFORMER: The King’s Consort/Robert King
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67283-84
Composed early in 1740, Handel’s hybrid oratorio L’allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato depicts no biblical or other tale but sets two abstract poems by John Milton, cleverly interwoven by his librettists James Harris and Charles Jennens, and with a third part provided by Jennens himself. The choice of text presented Handel with both a gift and a possible problem. A gift because the sentiments of Il penseroso were almost guaranteed to inspire some of his most sublime music – and Handel indulges himself almost to a fault in, for instance, the air ‘Sweet bird, thou shun’st the noise of Folly’ , whose pretty poignancy extends for very nearly a quarter of an hour. A problem because the music of L’allegro is brisker and therefore shorter, causing a sense of imbalance if one regards the piece simple as confrontation. It isn’t. Rather, its purpose, wondrously achieved, is to express gradations of moods, to examine the breadth of the human spirit.

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Robert King, who clearly adores the work, is wise to this, and rightly makes the most of the proundest music, dwelling on its sonorities, shaping it with sure instinct, never tempted to hurry. Sometimes the brisker music is slightly breathless, though on the whole King articulates and delineates dynamic contrast carefully. The chorus is robust and precise, and the team of singers is unfailingly excellent. The sopranos Lorna Anderson and Susan Gritton, representing Il Penseroso, offer appositely intense, rich tones, while the soprano Claron McFadden, the tenor Paul Agnew and the bass Neal Davies put the case for L’Allegro with suitable lithe brightness, and Agnew and Gritton pull both sides together alluringly in “As steals the morn upon the night”, the final, tender rapprochement. Stephen Pettitt