‘Where’er you walk’ – Arias for Handel’s favourite tenor

Allan Clayton, Classical Opera, Ian Page
Signum Records SIGCD457
Music by Arne, Boyce, Handel & J. C. Smith

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]n interesting recital disc – as far as I am aware the first one devoted to music sung by one of Handel’s most favoured English performers, rather than one of his Italian stars.

John Beard was probably born around 1715, and David Vicker’s exemplary notes suggest that he may have sung as a treble in the famous Coronation service of 1727, when Handel’s great set of Anthems were first heard. His adult career began with the part of Silvio in the 1734 revival of Il Pastor Fido; he was to be Handel’s principal tenor for the rest of the latter’s life, creating the eponymous roles of Samson, Judas Maccabaeus and Jephtha, as well as a host of others. He was clearly a singer of much distinction and dramatic ability, as Allan Clayton ably demonstrates here, equally at home in the smooth bel canto of ‘Tune Your Harps’ from Esther and the Italianate coloratura of ‘Vedi l’ape’ from Berenice, as well as the deeply moving ‘Thus when the sun’ from Samson  or Jephtha’s bleakly tragic ‘Hide thou thy hated beams’ and sublime ‘Waft her angels’.

He is joined by the mellifluous Mary Bevan in the lovely ‘As steals the morn’ from L’Allegro, and by the fine Choir of Classical Opera in ‘Happy pair’ from Alexander’s Feast.
As well as singing for Handel, Beard was employed by many of his musical contemporaries – we are treated to some lovely Boyce (his exquisite bassoon-tinted ‘Softly rise, O Southern breeze’ from Solomon), rousing J.C. Smith (‘Hark how the hounds and horn’ from The Fairies) and galant Arne (‘Thou, like the glorious sun’ from Artaxerxes)

The Orchestra of Classical Opera, under the able baton of Ian Page, provide lively and colourful accompaniments; they shine especially in the magically-hushed ‘moonrise’ sinfonia from Act 2 of Ariodante.

No reason to hesitate, really!

Alastair Harper

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