LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Il pastor Fido
PERFORMER: Michael Bennett, Omar Ebrahim; The Music Theatre Wales Ensemble/Michael Rafferty
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907585/86
Scored as though for a private entertainment in a Roman palazzo, the 1712 version of Il pastor fido has long been neglected. First seen at the Queen’s Theatre, London, Handel’s Arcadian idyll of muddled hearts and Cupid’s darts lacks both the theatricality of Rinaldo (1711) and the psychological penetration of Agrippina (1709). A thing of sighs and kisses, it is half opera, half serenata: a delicate, antique hybrid.
Harpsichordist and conductor David Bates makes no attempt to address Il pastor fido’s dramatic shortcomings in La Nuova Musica’s world premiere recording. His love of Handel’s instrumental textures is apparent. Every facet of the six-movement Overture – scored for woodwind and strings – is held up to the light and admired. In the moist acoustic of London’s Temple Church, the effect is spa-like serenity.
Bates’s nymphs and shepherds range from decorative (Lucy Crowe’s Amarilli, Katherine Manley’s Eurilla, Clint van der Linde’s Silvio) to dynamic (Anna Dennis’s Mirtillo and Madeleine Shaw’s Dorinda). In Dennis, we have a fiercely individual voice with remarkable extension, in Shaw a stage-worthy characterisation, most moving in the staccato gasps of ‘Se m’ami, oh caro’. It’s all very pretty and polished. But had Bates loved Handel just a little bit less, and theatre just a little bit more, I suspect he would have made a more exciting recording.