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Hyperion Records

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Track(s) taken from CDA67463
Recording details: June 2003
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Ben Turner
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: September 2004
Total duration: 48 minutes 38 seconds

'This is a mouth-watering performance of Handel's colourfully gorgeous ode…the recording is in a class of its own when it comes to the seemingly effortless, beautiful singing of Carolyn Sampson, now the best British early music soprano by quite some distance…Notwithstanding many agreeable past achievements, King has seldom produced a disc of such outstanding conviction' (Gramophone)

'This new recording finds Robert King and his splendid King's Consort on top form and in Carolyn Sampson he has surely found one of the most exquisite voices for this repertoire' (Gramophone)

'Director Robert King allows the beauty to be revealed on its own terms: the shape, phrasing and pacing all flow effortlessly. Added to this, the exquisite beauty of soprano Carolyn Sampson and the muscular elegance of James Gilchrist ensure that this is a landmark recording' (Choir & Organ)

'Robert King beats the ageing process with regular injections of new voices: they remain full of zest … Excellently recorded, this is an unmissable disc of Handelian delights' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Apart from the contributions of Robert King's ensemble and choir and tenor James Gilchrist, there's one outstanding reason to invest in this pairing of Handel's Ode and the ravishing cantata Cecilia, volgi un sguardo: the soprano Carolyn Sampson' (The Independent)

'For sheer hedonistic delight, few works beat Handel's 1739 Ode for St Cecilia's Day. Dryden's poem in praise of music's powers was a gift to a composer with a genius for the picturesque. 'Handel responded with a string of arias and choruses in his most colourful, sensuous vein. He rarely wrote more ravishing arias than the soprano's sarabande evoking Jubal's lyre (cue for a glorious cello solo), or the serene tribute to the "sacred organ". Carolyn Sampson's limpid tone and graceful phrasing are a prime pleasure in a first-rate performance. Tenor James Gilchrist combines Handelian elegance with muscular bravado in his rollicking "The Trumpet's Loud Clangour". The chorus is crisp and youthful-sounding, and each of the instrumental solos is eloquently done. What gives King the edge over the equally vivid version from Trevor Pinnock (DG Archiv) is the bonus of the rare Italian cantata Cecilia, volgi un sguardo that Handel composed to accompany his earlier Cecilian ode, Alexander's Feast. As an inveterate recycler, he drew liberally on earlier music. But no matter. The results are charming and occasionally, as in the rapt central section of the soprano aria, rather more than that. A delectable disc' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Robert King once again shows what a masterful Handelian he is. In this repertoire, the ensemble reigns supreme—perfection of pacing, phrasing, overall shape and individual details can all be taken absolutely for granted. The glorious colour in the ode is exceptional' (Early Music Review)

'Robert King's approach allows the full beauty of the music to emerge naturally, a lesson for other early music speed merchants' (Classic FM Magazine)

'the unique and irresistible pairing with the cantata rarity makes this Hyperion release one no Handel collector should miss' (Fanfare, USA)

'a work of great charm, radiantly performed on this disc. Strongly recommended' (Goldberg)

'At the heart of it all are Robert King and his splendid ensemble. With King's grasp of rhythm, the overture snaps along marvelously, and his intelligent support of singers makes this an essential Handel recording' (Early Music)

'… a superb recording of a lovable work' (The New York Times)

An Ode for St Cecilia's Day, HWV76
composer
1739
author of text

No 7: March  [1'53]

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
According to the dates on his autograph score Handel composed A Song for St Cecilia’s Day between 15 and 24 September 1739. (A Song was Dryden’s title, copied by Handel; the more usual title, An Ode for St Cecilia’s Day appears first in Randall’s edition of 1771.) So swift a rate of composition was not exceptional for Handel, but in this case it was to some extent expedited by a remarkable amount of musical borrowing from the Componimenti of Gottlieb Muffat (1690–1770), a newly published set of suites for harpsichord. (Copies of several fragments from Muffat are found among Handel’s autograph sketches.) In the ode Handel not only expands and improves Muffat’s material, but also brings fragments of separate pieces together and fits them into contexts for which one might easily assume they were originally conceived. In the opening accompanied recitative, for example, the shifting harmonies depicting primordial chaos, and the lively exchanges between violins and basses suggesting the atoms obediently arranging themselves into order, are apt pieces of tone painting; yet both are taken from different Muffat suites.

The ode opens with a splendid overture with which Handel seems to have been particularly pleased, since he converted it into his Grand Concerto in D major (Op 6 No 5) a month after composing it. The accompanied recitative just mentioned follows and the chorus enters to close Dryden’s first stanza in jubilant style. The stanzas describing the attributes of the various instruments are all set with appropriate instrumental solos (though Dryden’s ‘flute’ was a recorder rather than the transverse flute prescribed by Handel) and are admirably contrasted in mood. ‘What passion cannot Music raise and quell!’, with its gorgeous cello solo representing Jubal’s lyre, and the solemn tribute to the organ show Handel at his most expressive, while the celebration of the war-like qualities of the trumpet is one of his most exciting movements. Handel seems to have added the more formal March (not prescribed by Dryden) to bring back a more sedate mood, again using a motive from Muffat. The sprightly hornpipe with which Orpheus apparently leads the wild beasts is perhaps a shade incongruous, but it is a light-hearted moment which allows the magnificent setting of the final verse to unfold all the more powerfully. The soprano soloist begins to declaim Dryden’s lines in a hymn-like major-key melody, each phrase echoed by the full chorus, but at the mention of the ‘crumbling pageant’ of the ‘last and dreadful hour’ the music turns into minor-key mode and passes through dark modulations to A flat major, the key furthest from the tonic key of D major. The soprano and a solo trumpet then emerge majestically from the gloom to restore the home key and prepare for the final fugue, a grandiloquent extension of a subject taken from Muffat. Handel, a man of plain and devout belief, could contemplate the Last Judgement with unclouded optimism.

from notes by Anthony Hicks © 2004

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