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Handel: Acis and Galatea - McGegan

Handel: Acis and Galatea - McGegan

Carus  83.420

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Opera


Handel: Acis and Galatea (version by Mendelssohn Bartholdy)

Julia Kleiter (soprano)
Christoph Prégardien (tenor)
Michael Slattery (tenor)
Wolf Matthias Friedrich (bass)
NDR Chor
FestspielOrchester Göttingen
Nicholas McGegan (conductor)

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Review by John Broggio - January 7, 2009

After a wonderful recording of the original version of this drama (Handel: Acis & Galatea - Dunedin Consort), it could have been too much to ask for a World première recording of Mendelssohn's re-orchestration (re-discovered as recently as 2005!) that is also from the top drawer but this disc again sends one reaching for a list of superlatives.

Eagle-eyed listeners will note that there is quite a big time differential between the two issues. It is not because McGegan is ridiculously fast, nor Butt ponderously slow. Briefly, this is because Mendelssohn omits a 7 minute aria from Act 1 (Galatea's "As when the dove laments her love") and some repeats in the following:
Galatea's "Hush, ye pretty warbling choir!"/"Schweig, oh luft'ger Sängerchor"* (Act 1)
Acis' "Love in her eyes sits playing"/"Lieb' in den Blicken wohnet"* (Act 1)
Polyphemus' "Cease to beauty to be suing"/"Wohl das Flehen will ich lassen"* (Act 2)
Coridon's "Would you gain the tender creature"/Damon's "Liebe kannst du nur gewinnen" (Act 2)
Damon's "Consider, fond shepherd"/"Sieh, törichter Schäfer"* (Act 2)
When one accounts for these changes, then the overall differential between accounts reduces to 2 minutes over a period of about 45 minutes, with Butt being more relaxed on the whole.

Apart from the reduction in the performing time, the other key difference is the orchestration employed. Instead of 5 singers and 2,2,0,2,1 (strings), 2 recorders, 2 oboes, harpsichord and bassoon (original version); Mendelssohn adds violas (giving strings in this performance of 6,6,4,4,2), 2 flutes, 2 clarinets (in place of the recorders), a contrabassoon, 2 trumpets, 2 horns, timpani, fortepiano (in place of the harpsichord) and a chorus (Coridon's part is reassigned to Damon, thus reducing the solo singers to 4). This provides for much richer, weightier and varied instrumental timbres as well as a real body of sound from the chorus (originally just the soloists coming together). If McGegan had made the same tempo choices as Butt, even using period instruments as he does, the pointing that Butt can use to make a tempo seem vital would most likely sound a little heavy by comparison.

The singers are a starrier cast than on Linn but there is no clear advantage either way; all are admirably clear and free from exaggerated point making. A slight grumble about the notes: nowhere does it make clear which role is sung by the tenors. Galatea is naturally Julia Kleiter and Wolf Matthias Friedrich is Polyphemus; Christoph Prégardien and Michael Slattery sing Acis and Damon (or Damon and Acis). The orchestral and choral contributions here are also very fine and it must be said that Mendelssohn's imagination does add drama and variety of emotional depth to the score that the original might sometimes seem lacking.

The sound is quite closely recorded and as a result the performers appear to fan out around the listener in a way that quite belies the accompanying photography of the concerts held in conjunction with the sessions. For all that though, all the lines are clear and weighty as McGegan directs and there is little to be desired from a balancing point of view, just the overall perspective of the recording.

As with the Linn recording, this is highly recommended and contains both delightful music and wonderful performances.

[*: Fanny Mendelssohn translated the text into German for Felix.]

Copyright © 2009 John Broggio and HRAudio.net

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