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Handel - Parnasso in Festa

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Rating: * * * * *

Unlike our tacky times, when  the best that one might manage for the big day is a wedding singer, way back in 1734, Anne of Hanover and William of Orange tied their nuptial knot with style. The Princess' fond music teacher, one George Frederick Handel, contributed a full-length cantata Parnasso in Festa to celebrate their marriage.

A two-disc set from Hyperion gives the work its first airing for 274 years, gorgeously gift-wrapped by period instrumental orchestra the King's Consort under conductor Matthew Halls.   This is music so fresh it might have been freeze-packed through all those centuries. From the skipping rhythms of the overture to choruses that bowl along with bonhomie, there is not a flat second in its two-and-a-bit hours.

Handel's Parnassus is a music-loving place; nymphs and shepherds rollick with punchy harmonies while the Gods and Muses share some of the composer's catchiest tunes. Ruth Clegg's rich alto has one of the best in Tra sentier while soprano Rebecca Outram rages with fiery coloratura in Gia le furie.

These immortals are right characters.

 Diana Moore's Apollo deals out a florid reprimand to the long-faced Orfeo while Peter Harvey's Mars, with an appropriate swing to his phrases, sings the praises of the Parnassian ambrosia.  Storms are merely a pretext for stormy music, and the King's Consort dispense some thrills here, spaciously delivered from the generous acoustics of Hampstead's St Jude-on-the-Hill.

For Hyperion to produce so handsome a set as this, complete with a 40-page booklet and have it for sale on the other side of the world just seven months after its recording, shows that Gods must indeed be smiling upon it.

William Dart

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