Stunning, Ideal Acis

Review by: Robert Levine


Artistic Quality: 10

Sound Quality: 10

This performance replaces the John Eliot Gardiner as my new No. 1 Acis. It’s easy to understand why this brief work was the composer’s most popular during his lifetime: the quick, charming, and eventually touching libretto (probably by John Gay and Alexander Pope, no less) is more than supported by Handel’s crisp, memorable tunes that even at their most sentimental are never maudlin, and at their jolliest are truly toe-tapping.

The Italian opera at the Haymarket had closed and Handel was happy to receive a commission from the Earl of Carnarvon (later Duke of Chandos) to present a “pastoral entertainment” at his country estate. Merrily devoid of superfluous shepherds and nymphs, it tells its bizarre tale of woe with five singers (and an extra soprano for the choruses in this recording).

Christian Curnyn leads with zip and sharp, woody attacks (very few metal strings are used), and there is a spring in the quick movements. “Oh ruddier than the cherry” never has sounded so passive-aggressively witty, recorder obbligato and all–and Neal Davies, once the joking is over, is a dark, cruel Polyphemus as well. Tenor Allan Clayton is the least drippy Acis on disc, and in “Love in her eyes sits playing” sounds utterly enthralled with the love of his Galatea. And who wouldn’t, in Lucy Crowe’s performance, with a cooing “As when the dove”, and a heart-breaking “Heart the seat of soft delight”. Coridon’s “Would you gain the tender creature” never has sounded better than it does here sung by Jeremy Budd. Benjamin Hulett makes a fine, mellifluous Damon.

If you’re uncertain, just listen to the opening three-minute Sinfonia: jolly, with cleanly articulated, rhythmically apt strings and the oboes and recorders toodling along, with its dark coda a masterful 15-second scene change. And the flawless diction of the opening chorus is just a taste of what’s to come. Sound is wonderfully warm and realistic. Buy this.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

Reference Recording: This one; Gardiner/Norma Burrowes (Archiv)

  • Lucy Crowe (soprano); Allan Clayton, Benjamin Hulett, Jeremy Budd (tenor); Neal Davies (bass-baritone)
  • Early Opera Company, Christian Curnyn

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