Handel: Alexander’s Feast

Mariam Feuersinger, Daniel Johannsen, Matthias Helm STBar, Kammerchor Feldkirch, Concerto Stella matutina, Banjamin Lack
(2 CDs in a jewel case)
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A straightforwardly enjoyable live recording of Handel’s sparkling setting of Dryden’s ode on the Power of Music. The whole of Dryden’s poem is given, but unfortunately the integral harp and organ concerti (one apiece for Timotheus and St Cecelia) are omitted, which rather weakens the final recitative’s implied competition between the two of them! The original closing duet and chorus (to additional text by Newburgh Hamilton) are also omitted.

No matter – this is a fine achievement.

Daniel Johannsen is a splendidly dramatic narrator. I particularly enjoyed the accompagnato which opens Part 2, with its meticulously specified orchestral crescendo, and the energy of his later ‘Give the Vengeance due’ recitative and ensuing aria. Matthias Helm is a sonorous Bacchus (with splendidly rasping horns) in Part 1, and an equally sonorous Timotheus (with eerily cavernous multiple bassoons) in Part 2. Miriam Feuersinger produces lovely tone, but sometimes at the expense of verbal clarity.

The chorus respond well to Benjamin Lack’s committed direction, bringing out Handel’s rich scoring (in up to seven parts) and resourceful counterpoint – try the grand ground bass of ‘The Many rend the Skies’ in Part 1, or the glorious quadruple fugue at the end of Part 2 (slightly oddly, here, three of the four themes are given out by the soloists, while the fourth is sung by the chorus altos). The many instrumental obbligati are well (though often anonymously) done, with finely poised solo cello in ‘Softly sweet in Lydian measure’ and rousing trumpet in the A section of ‘Revenge Timotheus cries’ (dramatically contrasting with the aforementioned multiplicity of bassoons in the B section). Stefan Greussing is suitably energetic in the driving drum ostinato of ‘Break the Bands of Sleep asunder’. The magical ‘distancing’ effect of the cool recorder thirds in ‘Thus Long ago’ is beautifully captured.

The acoustic of the Monforthaus in Feldkirch is slightly dry, but probably not unlike that of the theatres in which Handel first performed the ode.

A fine achievement!

Alastair Harper