L’Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato – Ode in three parts to a libretto by James Harris and Charles Jennens after John Milton [sung in English]
Concerto grosso in G, Op.6/1 [movements I & II]
Concerto grosso in E minor, Op.6/3 [movements I & II)
Organ Concerto in B flat, Op.7/1
Rosemary Joshua & Anna Dennis (sopranos), Stuart Jackson (tenor) & George Humphreys (bass)
Alastair Ross (organ)
London Handel Singers
London Handel Orchestra
Reviewed by: Curtis Rogers
Reviewed: 16 April, 2013
Venue: St George’s, Hanover Square, London
Since Handel did not compose any instrumental preludes or interludes for L’Allegro this performance prefaced each part with the works that Handel himself used for its premiere. Laurence Cummings directed these with characteristic energy, even taking the sombre fugal second movement of Opus 6/3 briskly. The Organ Concerto brought into play the church’s main pipe organ. This gave a good opportunity to demonstrate the contrast between its gentler flute stops and the grandeur of its pleno registration with bright and powerful mixtures and mutation stops, as though summing up the extremes of Mirth and Melancholy, between which Moderation would later advise adopting the “golden mean” as the precept to a happy life.
The performance generally matched the work’s largely serious nature whilst also capturing the charming, pictorial moments such as the tolling of the curfew, the bold rasping of the horn in the aria ‘Mirth, admit me to my crew’, and the joyful, glinting tintinnabulations in the chorus ‘Or let the merry bells ring round’. Rosemary Joshua represented Melancholy and sang with appropriate sobriety, compared to the refulgent, almost ostentatious, display rightly imparted by Anna Dennis in the part of Mirth. There was though an element of radiance and subtlety missing from Joshua’s performance that could have been expected from such a prominent Handelian. In ‘Sweet bird’ the music threatened to disintegrate as it alternated slowly between the fluttering solos on flute to mimic birdsong and the vocal lines, though Handel may be blamed for composing an aria that can appear to lack direction and purpose. The flute imitations were not always absolutely exact either.
Although less experienced than Joshua, the other soloists were virtually as accomplished. In addition to Dennis, Stuart Jackson had the most involved part in driving what narrative the piece contains by attempting to keep Melancholy’s claims at bay and seeking to become an adherent of Mirth. He sang the opening ‘Hence, loathed Melancholy’ in a clipped, snarling manner that set up the ensuing drama between the pretensions of the rival figures. His grasp of the music was steady, even in his personification of laughter holding his sides, which was musical and not overdone. Just occasionally however he sang with a reedy attack and his English seemed a little skewed with the hint of a lisp that slightly detracted from the music’s mellifluous quality. Happily his duet with Joshua in ‘As steals the Morn upon the Night’ was not so marred, and Cummings sensibly kept this number moving with a lilt rather than artificially luxuriating in it, as often happens when it is wrenched from the score as an excerpt. George Humphreys gave a suitably authoritative account of the bass part, first in his forceful address ‘Mirth, admit me of thy crew’, and then assuming his own identity as Moderation, no less commandingly. By enacting wry, knowing gestures in line with Handel’s music, he suggested that Moderation need not be po-faced or humourless.