HANDEL Parnasso in festa
Handel’s serenata about the marriage of Peleus and Thetis being celebrated by Apollo and the Muses on the slopes of Mount Parnassus was described by the Daily Journal as ‘an Essay of several different Sorts of Harmony’ – an interpretation realised affectionately by Matthew Halls and The King’s Consort (Hyperion). Andrea Marcon and La Cetra’s version benefits from access to the forthcoming HHA critical edition of the score, although there is one minor incorrect detail that Halls got right: the original 1734 wordbook confirms that a huntress is named Clori (not Cloride). Marcon’s direction is packed with plenty of vitality but his serial impetuousness misses out valuable aspects of the diverse music. The passacaglia ‘S’accenda pur di festa il cor’ is marred by hard-biting snappiness (it needed gentility and suaveness), and very quick pace inhibits rather than liberates Silke Gäng’s turn as a carefree huntress in ‘Tra sentier di amene selve’ (Handel’s gorgeous orchestration, featuring recorders and horns, barely has a chance to weave its spell). The chorus ‘Cantiamo a Bacco’ feels less like cheery praise of the God of Wine and more like an impatient binge, and the franticness of the celebratory finale ‘Lunga serie d’alti eroi’ lacks clarity and is devoid of nobility. On the other hand, nimble tempos pay dividends in the horn-festooned hunting chorus ‘O quanto bella gloria’ (even if one imagines that thwacking theorbos should not be louder than the too-distant horns). Unbridled bellicosity in the opening scene of Part 3 has thrilling boldness (‘Si parli ancor di trionfar’, with athletic solos from Luca Tittoto’s God of War).
Marcon employs countertenors in parts originally for high castratos. David Hansen’s upper passagework is precise and brilliant, albeit with occasional hints of shrillness. There is some unsteadiness from Kangmin Justin Kim at the start of Orfeo’s lament for Euridice, but on the whole his stratospheric singing is astonishingly sweet and sensitive. Robin Johannsen’s limpid phrasing and judicious embellishments are spot-on in Clio’s bittersweet ‘Nel spiegar sua voce al canto’ (a description of how Orpheus’s singing silences the wind and birds – represented by doleful recorders). The sharp attack of the strings in ‘Già le furie vedo ancor’ aptly illustrates Calliope’s description of Orpheus plagued by the Furies, although intrusive organ continuo together with overly busy theorbos diminish rather than increase the scene’s dramatic power. Apollo’s ‘Non tardate, fauni ancora’ and its choral refrain is one of Handel’s loveliest pastoral set-pieces, but bassoons are not prominent enough, and the tableau feels a bit perfunctory rather than idyllic. Nevertheless, the routinely impressive standard of musicianship in Marcon’s version makes it a welcome alternative to Halls – in whose hands the moods and colours of Handel’s serenata always feel just right.