musica Dei donum

CD reviews

George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759): Handel in London

[I] "Handel at Vauxhall Vol. 1"
Sophie Bevana, Eleanor Dennisb, Kirsty Hopkinsc, soprano; Charles MacDougalld, Greg Tasselle, tenor; Benjamin Bevan, baritonef; Daniel Moult, organg
London Early Opera
Dir: Bridget Cunningham
rec: May 7 - 9, 2012, London, St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead
Signum Classics - SIGCD428 ( 2016) (48'18")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

Thomas Augustine ARNE (1710-1778): Colin and Phoebe, A Pastoralbef; George Frideric HANDEL: Acis and Galatea (HWV 49) (sinfonia; Ye verdant plains and woody mountains - Hush, ye pretty warbling choir, acc & ariac); Concerto for organ and orchestra in B flat, op. 4,2 (HWV 290)g; L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato (HWV 55) (As steals the morn upon the night)be; Saul (HWV 53) (Dead March); [The Advice]a; The Melancholy Nymph (HWV 228,19)d; John HEBDEN (c1705-1765): Concerto for strings and bc in A, op. 2a,1; Daniel MOULT (*1973): Improvisation in the style of Handel and John Worgang

Louise Strickland, recorder; Rachel Brown, Rchel Latham, transverse flute; Belinda Paul, Ann Allen, oboe; Zoe Shevlin, bassoon; Andrew Harwood-White, Tom Lees, Philip Dale, sackbut; Adrian Butterfield, Eleanor Harrison, Kirra Thomas, Philip Yeeles, violin; Alexis Bennett, viola; Jennifer Bullock, cello; Kate Aldridge, double bass; Cesar Queruz, theorbo; Bridget Cunningham, harpsichord; Daniel Moult, organ; Sarah Stuart, timpani

[II] "Where'er you walk - Arias for Handel's favourite tenor"
Allan Clayton, tenor
The Choir of Classical Operaa; The Orchestra of Classical Opera
Dir: Ian Page
rec: Sept 15 - 18, 2015, London, All Saints Church, Tooting
Signum Classics - SIGCD457 ( 2016) (68'59")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Thomas Augustine ARNE (1710-1778): Artaxerxes (Thou, like the glorious sun); William BOYCE (1711-1779): Solomon, A Serenata (sinfonia to Part II; My fair's a garden of delight - Softly rise, o southern breeze, rec & aria; Ye southern breezes gently blow, chorusa); George Frideric HANDEL: Alcina (HWV 34) (M'inganna, me n'aveggio - Un momento di contento, rec & aria); Alexander's Feast or the Power of Musick (HWV 75) (Happy pair, aria; Happy pair, chorusa); Ariodante (HWV 33) (sinfonia to act II; Tu vivi, e punito); Berenice, regina d'Egitto (HWV 38) (Vedi l'ape che ingegnosa); Esther (HWV 50b) (Tune your harps to cheerful strains); Il Pastor Fido (HWV 8c) (Sol nel mezzo risono del core); Jephtha (HWV 70) (Hide thou thy hated beams, O sun, in clouds; A father, off'ring up his only child - Waft her, angels, through the skies, rec & aria); Judas Maccabaeus (HWV 63) ('Tis well, my friends - Call forth thy pow'rs, my soul, and dare, rec & aria); L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato (HWV 55) (As steals the morn upon the night, duet)b; Samson (HWV 57) (Let but that spirit - Thus when the sun from wat'ry bed, rec & aria); Semele (HWV 58) (See, she appears - Where'er you walk, rec & aria); John Christopher SMITH (1712-1795): The Fairies (Hark how the hounds and horn)

[choir] Mary Bevan (solob), Daisy Bevan, Augusta Hebbert, soprano; Laura Kelly (soloc), Kate Symonds-Joy, contralto; Nick Pritchard (solod), Tom Herford, tenor; Nicholas Mogg, Lawrence White, bass
[orchestra] James Eastaway, Mark Baigent, oboe; Gavin Edwards, Nick Benz, horn; Philipp Turbett, bassoon; Matthew Truscott, Miki Takahashi, Alice Evans, Daniel Edgar, George Clifford, Jill Samuel, William Thorp, Nia Lewis, Camilla Scarlett, violin; Lisa Cochrane, Oliver Wilson, viola; Joseph Crouch, Timothy Smedley, cello; Timothy Amherst, double bass; Pawel Siwczak, harpsichord


In the first half of the 18th century London was one of Europe's main musical centres. Many performers and composers from across Europe, and in particular Italy, settled there to participate in the many musical events which took place, both in domestic circles and in public places. Among the latter were a number of 'pleasure gardens', "private commercial resorts where visitors could expect, for a small admission charge, to be entertained with music, refreshments, and a pleasurable rural atmosphere", according to David E. Coke in the booklet to the recording "Handel at Vauxhall Gardens". The latter was one of these pleasure gardens, and surely one of the most famous.

Most pleasure gardens offered the same kind of musical entertainment: a mixture of vocal and instrumental items of different character, divided into two acts. The present disc is the first of two and offers music for the first act. Only in some cases we know which pieces were performed. One thing is for sure: the programmes included a mixture of 'art' music and more popular pieces, such as glees and vaudevilles. This way people who probably never attended an opera performance became acquainted with what was sung in the theatre, and the higher echelons of society heard music which was most popular among the lower classes. Coke quotes a certain Dr Johnson, who used the phrase "pleasure garden music" to describe derogatorily the repertoire performed at these events, but the programme put together by Bridget Cunningham delivers a different picture.

In 1729 Jonathan Tyers took charge of Vauxhall Gardens which was re-opened it in 1732. The concerts are poorly documented, but reports indicate that Tyers favoured English composers and performers. Handel was one of the composers whose music was frequently performed. He was one of the main composers of his time, but there are also reasons to believe that Tyers and Handel were personal friends. Another highly popular composer was Thomas Augustine Arne, who lived in Vauxhall and was especially known for his music for the theatre. Being a Catholic prevented him from taking a court or church appointment.

Only a few pieces on this disc are known for sure to have been performed at Vauxhall Gardens. One of them is the aria Hush, ye pretty warbling choir from Acis and Galatea. That is to say, it was performed instrumentally in 1739 - during a visit of the Prince of Wales - on the organ which was built in 1737 and was later extended with a carillon and a 'symphony of singing-birds'. Here we hear the original vocal version, with a bird whistler to imitate the organ mechanism just mentioned. Another piece which was performed on this occasion and often thereafter was the Dead March from the oratorio Saul. Thirdly, Arne's Colin and Phoebe, called A Pastoral, was published in a collection of ballads "as perform'd at VauxHall Gardens".

The remainder of the programme comprises pieces of the kind which were performed at the gardens. The organ played an important role which justifies the inclusion of one of Handel's organ concertos. Especially interesting is the Concerto No. 1 in A for strings and bc by John Hebdon. He played the cello and the bassoon and participated in Handel's performances of Messiah at the Foundling Hospital. He was also a member of the Vauxhall band in the 1740's and 1750's. The Advice is not in the catalogue of Handel's works. It is a piece which is included in a collection of popular songs (published in 1754) of the kind which were performed at Vauxhall Gardens. The music is taken from Handel's opera Ezio which means that we have to do here with a contrafactum. But the Handel catalogue also includes 24 songs which are attributed to himself, although at least one of them is not from his pen. To this group also belongs The Melancholy Nymph.

The disc ends with the duet As steals the morn upon the night from L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato. Tyers was one of the subscribers to this piece whose first two parts are based on poems by John Milton; his statue was in Vauxhall Gardens. Reasons enough to include this duet, one of Handel's most splendid pieces.

The second volume of this project will be released in due course, and there is every reason to look forward to that, in particular in regard to repertoire. Hopefully more pieces which were or could have been performed at London's pleasure gardens will be recorded in the future. As far as the performances are concerned I am less enthusiastic. The singing and playing is alright, although most of the singers use a little too much vibrato, but all in all I find the performances not very sparkling; that certainly goes for the playing of the ensemble. I have heard more imginative performances of Handel's organ concerto. The Melancholy Nymph is the best of the vocal items here as far as the performance is concerned; Charles MacDougall could well be right in not adding ornamentation to the various stanzas of this song.

One of the English artists who performed at Vauxhall Gardens was the tenor John Beard who played an important role in Handel's career. He sang numerous times in operas, oratorios and sacred works from his pen; some roles were even written for him. He also earned fame as an actor and in 1761 he took charge of Covent Garden Theatre. Allan Clayton and Ian Page have put together a programme which sheds light on Beard's illustrious career.

Beard, who was likely born in 1715, started his career as a treble in the Chapel Royal. In this capacity he took part in a private performance of the oratorio Esther in 1732, organised by Bernard Gates, Master of the Children, in which all ten of the Chapel Royal trebles participated. Much later, in 1751, Beard sang the aria Tune your harps as part of a concert at King's Theatre, Haymarket. In 1734, when Beard's voice broke, he left the Royal Chapel. That same year he sang the role of Silvio in a revival of Il pastor fido. In 1734 and 1735 he took part in performances of Handel's operas Ariodante and Alcina. In most operas of the time the main roles are for soprano and alto, sometimes with a single role for bass - often the villain of the piece or a minor character. Tenor roles are rather rare and one wonders whether Beard inspired Handel to allocate a role in some of his operas to this type of voice. In 1737 he sang the role of Fabio in Berenice.

More important are Beard's roles in Handel's English language compositions. He was one of the soloists - the other being the soprano Anna Maria Strada del Po - in Alexander's Feast or the Power of Musick, an Ode for St Cecilia's Day. He sang the role of Mirth in the last part of L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato which includes the duet As steals the morn upon the night which also ended the disc of London Early Opera. In the 1740s Handel turned away from opera and focused on oratorios. In 1743 John Beard sang the title role in the first performance of Samson and in 1746 Handel wrote the title role of Judas Maccabaeus, which was first performed the next year, for him. Beard also took the title role in the oratorio Jephtha in 1752. The disc ends with one of Handel's most famous tenor arias, Where'er you walk, from Semele which was first performed in 1744.

Beard not only sang in operas and oratorios by Handel, but also in works by other composers, such as William Boyce, Thomas Augustine Arne and John Christopher Smith. The former's oratorio Solomon is not a dramatic account of that Hebrew king's life, but is based on the Old Testament book Song of Songs. The first performance was in 1742, but it is not known for sure whether Beard was involved in it. He sang the role of the man, simply called 'He', in later revivals. Arne has already been mentioned as a composer of works for the theatre. One of his best-known, recorded some years ago by Ian Page (Linn Recordings, 2010), is Artaxerxes, first performed in 1762; Beard took the role of the villain Artabanes. John Christopher Smith was a pupil of Handel and later acted as his assistent. He compiled oratorios from fragments of works by Handel but also composed music of his own, for instance The Fairies, based on Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was first performed in 1755 and Beard sang the role of Theseus.

In recent years various discs have been devoted to singers from the 18th century who are still known and of whom we know in which works they for sure or likely have participated. Most of them are sopranos and altos, either female or male, and sometimes a bass. It is nice that this disc documents the career of a tenor; this is largely due to the fact that we know quite a lot about Beard's career and which roles he sang. He was one of the leading singers of his time and the appreciation of his talent comes clearly to the fore in the fine, and often sublime music Handel wrote for him. Where'er you walk is certainly one of the best pieces; another very moving aria is Waft her, angels from Jephtha. Very different is the belligerent aria Call forth thy pow'rs from Judas Maccabaeus.

Allan Clayton is a new name to me; I can't remember having heard him before. The introduction on this disc has been a most pleasant experience. He is certainly an outstanding Handel singer who shows great sensitivity towards the character of every single piece and the text. His ornamentation is tasteful and effective, and never exaggerated. Now and then he uses a bit too much vibrato, but overall he keeps it nicely in check and it certainly didn't spoil my enjoyment. The recitatives - often a weak spot in recordings - come off perfectly, with exactly the right amount of rhythmic freedom. The Orchestra of Classical Opera is an engaging partner.

Johan van Veen ( 2017)

Relevant links:

Kirsty Hopkins
Charles MacDougall
Daniel Moult
Classical Opera
London Early Opera

CD Reviews