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Handel’s incidental music is all that remains of Alceste, the Tobias Smollett play that was mysteriously scrapped before its opening night in February 1750 and has since vanished without trace. Handel, ever pragmatic, soon recycled the music, chiefly in his 1751 cantata The Choice of Hercules, since when the original version has rarely been heard. His score comprises charmingly festive music for the play’s opening and closing scenes, a handful of varied arias and choruses set in Hades and two ‘dream’ arias for the muse Calliope, notably the soft, lulling Gentle Morpheus, son of night, beautifully sung here by soprano Lucy Crowe. Benjamin Hulett is a pleasingly lyrical tenor, but Andrew Foster- Williams’ bass-baritone can’t quite plumb the sepulchral depths needed for Charon’s Ye fleeing shades, I come. Regrettably, Christian Curnyn hasn’t included the alternative versions of Calliope’s arias: a little more Handel, and Lucy Crowe, might have made an attractive disc irresistible.

Graham Lock Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Early Music Today, 2012 - ©Rhinegold Publishing