Handel Parnasso in Festa

Recycled music, maybe, but well worth hearing in such a fine performance

Author: 
Richard Lawrence

Handel Parnasso in Festa

  • (Il) Parnasso in Festa

In his exemplary booklet-note David Vickers echoes Christopher Hogwood and Jonathan Keates, whose excellent books on Handel have recently been updated, in commenting on the undeserved neglect of this occasional piece. Parnasso in Festa was composed to mark the wedding in 1734 of Handel’s favourite pupil, Princess Anne, to Prince William of Orange. A preview in the Daily Journal announced that the music was a mixture of “single Songs, Duetto’s, &c. intermix’d with Chorus’s, some what in the Style of Oratorio’s”. This was spot-on, as most of the numbers were recycled from Athalia, performed in Oxford the previous year but not yet heard in London.

The setting is Mount Parnassus, where gods, Muses and assorted hangers-on are gathered to celebrate the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, the future parents of Achilles. Much of the music is perfectly well suited to its new context. The Muse Clio’s “Verginelle dotte”, for instance, is a perfect analogue to Josabeth’s deathless “Blooming virgins” in Athalia. And even when the sentiments are different – Clio’s aria commending the happy pair to the care of the Graces is far removed from Athalia’s “My vengeance awakes me” – the result is not incongruous.

The cast is led by the superb Apollo of Diana Moore, a name new to me, who combines the range of a mezzo with the tone quality of a contralto. Her semiquaver runs in “Torni pure”, one of the few original numbers, are thrilling. With admirable support from Carolyn Sampson and the rest of the cast, and crisp choral and orchestral contributions under Matthew Halls, this recording should ensure that Parnasso in Festa will at last come into its own.

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