Acis and Galatea
Jeremy Budd, Grace Davidson, Stuart Young, Mark Dobell, Simon Berridge; The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
CORO COR16169 89:03 mins (2 discs)
Recordings of Handel’s early pastoral serenata come in various shapes and sizes. In his liner note Harry Christophers insists that he has stuck pretty well to the forces Handel would have had for the original performance at Cannons, the home of the Duke of Chandos, when Acis was premiered there in 1718: just five singers and an orchestra of seven, to which Christophers has added a couple more continuo players. The result is none the worse for (nor alone in) being small-scale, though the slightly over-resonant acoustic of St Augustine’s, Kilburn, tends to swamp the miniature forces: the sound lacks immediacy and its surface is dull.
Taken at quite a lick, the overture is typical of the conductor’s approach. Without undue hurry, he keeps the delightful score bouncing merrily along; the instrumentalists supply expert playing. There are certainly versions with more lavishly-voiced soloists. Grace Davidson’s Galatea offers a small but pretty soprano and Jeremy Budd’s Acis is crisply articulated and emotionally engaged, while Stuart Young enjoys the comic-grotesque possibilities of the giant Polyphemus – an interpretation that is generally over the top in the right way, if at times roughly handled.
Mark Dobell’s Damon is healthily lyrical, though one or two of the runs nearly run away from him. Simon Berridge’s attractive light tenor is nicely scaled to Coridon. The ensemble supplies good diction for the choruses: ‘Wretched Lovers!’ has a madrigal-like intimacy while the central trio give ‘The flocks shall leave the mountains’ an appropriate level of drama.