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GRAMOPHONE ( 08/ 2019)
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Reviewer: David Vickers

This is the third recital devoted to John Beard, the singer for whom Handel wrote almost every significant tenor role between Ariodante (1735) and Jephtha (1752). Aaron Sheehan’s honeyed singing is well suited to these extracts from English odes and oratorios, and lutenist Stephen Stubbs directs the Pacific MusicWorks Orchestra with zippy conversational fluency (understandably, theorbo or guitar are at the forefront more than usual).

There is no representation of Beard’s parts in more than half a dozen Italian operas and many outstanding English masterpieces; some music from these might have increased the dramatic breadth and musical variety of the programme, whereas ‘Thy rebuke … But thou didst not leave his soul in hell’ from Messiah (not first performed by Beard) is unconvincing out of context, and five selections from Samson is probably a couple too many. In these respects, the all-Handel survey by Kobie van Rensburg (New Classical Adventure – nla) and Allan Clayton’s exploration of music written for Beard by various composers (Signum, 8/16) both struck better-balanced perspectives.

Nevertheless, the fruitful Boston Early Music Festival collaborations between Sheehan and Stubbs are evident from their spot-on musical shaping and communication of Dryden’s poetry in a stormy ‘The princes applaud with a furious joy’ (Alexander’s Feast) and a convivial ‘Sharp violins proclaim their jealous pangs’ (Ode for St Cecilia’s Day); their rapid ‘The enemy said, I will pursue’ (Israel in Egypt) is thrilling, and a very quick account of ‘Thou shalt break them’ is amazingly light-footed, with rapier-like orchestral violins. There is some dubious filling out of harmony by the continuo in unison string passages during Samson’s ‘Total eclipse!’, and the bassoon part in ‘Thus when the sun’ is inaudible. On the other hand, the orchestra’s shading in two concerti grossi (Op 3 No 2 and Op 6 No 7) is fantastic, and overall this is a hugely enjoyable album.

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