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From the opening bars of this utterly compelling performance it is strikingly evident something special is afoot. Handel’s adopted countrymen were quick to recognise that the juxtaposition of Milton’s sublime poetry with Handel’s mimetic gifts had produced a work of true vernal freshness; L’Allegro would remain one of his most popular works throughout the remainder of the 18th century. It is this meeting of literary and musical genius that lies at the heart of a performance for which all involved appear to have thought through every bar afresh, both texturally and musically. It is rare to hear words delivered with such point.

Paul McCreesh’s decision to give Handel’s original 1740 version of course entails the loss of later additions, some of them favourites. Instead he prefaces Parts 1 and 2 each with a concerto grosso (op. 6/1 and 3) and Part 3 with the Organ Concerto op. 7/1. As has long been customary with Gabrieli performances both singing and orchestral playing are outstanding, as is the solo team, with soprano Gillian Webster producing some ravishing mezzo voce singing, tenor Jeremy Ovenden superb in both diction and projection, an exceptional treble in Laurence Kilsby and noble singing of the baritone and bass parts by Peter Harvey and Ashley Riches respectively. This is quite simply life-enhancing music making, a glorious achievement in every respect.

Brian Robins Read the full review on Agora Classica

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