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GRAMOPHONE (Awards Issue 2012)
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Reviewer: David Vickers

More Handel from Ludus Baroque in Edinburgh

Handel set Dryden’s sophisticated St Cecilia ode Alexander’s Feast in 1736 and three years later he turned his attention to Dryden’s earlier, shorter and more literal A Song for St Cecilia’s Day. The reason for the composition was typically practical: he needed something to form a makeshift third part for his 1739 revival of Alexander’s Feast, which was too short to fill an entire evening at the theatre (this is not explained in David Kimbell’s otherwise illuminating booklet essay). On this occasion Handel’s Dryden settings were performed alongside an unidentified concerto from his newly composed Op 6 collection; in this spirit, Ludus Baroque follow the shorter ode with a neatly attractive performance of Op 6 No 7. As a bonus, Ed Lyon fervently sings the short St Cecilia cantata Look down, harmonious saint (composed in 1736 but never used). The ode receives an orderly performance. I wish there were double the number of string-players: the sonority of only six violins is insufficiently grand for the overture’s opening. Lyon does not achieve the ideally awestruck sense of timeless mystery and dramatic rhetoric in ‘From harmony, heav’nly harmony this universal frame began’, although I liked the relaxed shapeliness of the ensuing chorus. The cello obbligato in ‘What passion cannot music raise and quell’ is played poignantly by Chris Suckling (the interjecting violins and oboes seem ploddy); Mary Bevan gorgeously conveys the pious poetry of ‘But oh! what art can teach’ ( organist Jan Waterfield’s contributions contain a few surprising embellishments). The unaffected 19-strong choir outweighs the slimline orchestra at times. Trevor Pinnock and Robert King have more to say in illustration of Dryden’s words and Handel’s musical details but kudos to Delphian for the intelligent choice of cover art, reflecting Dryden’s first stanza discussing the creation of the universe.

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