The Sixteen Edition - Handel: Alexander's Feast

Album Summary

>Handel, George Frideric : Alexander's Feast, HWV 75
>Handel, George Frideric : Concerto for Harp in B flat major, Op. 4 no 6/HWV 294
>Handel, George Frideric : Organ Concerto in G minor, Op.4/1, HWV 289
Performers Conductor Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

Gramophone Classical Music Guide
Alexander's Feast, an ode to St Cecilia by the longdead John Dryden, was set by Handel in 1736 and revised many times. Subtitled 'The Power of Musick', it describes a banquet held by Alexander the Great after his victory over the Persians. The singing and playing of Timotheus inspire Alexander to drunkenness, pity, love and revenge, one after the other. What has this to do with the patron saint of music, you might well ask? The answer comes in a commentary towards the end, when Dryden contrasts Timotheus's pagan skills with the invention of the organ and the celestial connections of 'Divine Cecilia', who 'enlarg'd the former narrow bounds'.

The music is superb, and it's given a superb performance here. The Sixteen (actually 18, with two extra sopranos and an all-male alto line) are a little lightweight in the grander choruses but they sing with precision and unforced tone. Over a swiftly moving ground bass, 'The many rend the skies' goes with a swing; their finest moment, though, is their hushed contemplation of the Persian king lying dead on the field of battle.

The lion's share of the solos goes to Nancy Argenta, whose fresh tones, admirably suited to 'War, he sung, is toil and trouble', are cunningly and effectively veiled for 'He chose a mournful muse', an accompanied recitative in the manner of 'Thy rebuke hath broken his heart'. Ian Partridge is superb in his subtle handling of the words, as he is with his wonderful breath control in 'Happy pair'. Michael George is perfect in 'Revenge, Timotheus cries': hissing snakes, flashing sparkles and all.

The orchestration is a constant delight. In some of the solo numbers Handel uses only violins and continuo; elsewhere he introduces a solo cello, a trumpet obbligato, recorders and horns. Best of all is the creepy middle section of 'Revenge, Timotheus cries', where he conjures up the 'ghastly band' of the Grecian dead with Neapolitan sixth cadences played by the violas and bassoons in octaves. All these opportunities are seized with relish by the Symphony of Harmony and Invention. In an unsuitable church acoustic, Harry Christophers sets unfailingly suitable tempi. And to add to our delight he includes the concerti detailed above that are integral to the piece.



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Works Details

>Handel, George Frideric : Alexander's Feast, HWV 75
  • Conductor: Harry Christophers
  • Ensemble: The Symphony of Harmony and Invention
  • Running Time: 6 min. 20 sec.
  • Period Time: Baroque
  • Form: Cantata/Oratorio
  • Written: 1736

>Handel, George Frideric : Concerto for Harp in B flat major, Op. 4 no 6/HWV 294
  • Performers: Stephen Stubbs (Archlute); Erin Headley (Bass Viola da gamba); Andrew Lawrence-King (Harp)
  • Conductor: Harry Christophers
  • Ensemble: The Symphony of Harmony and Invention
  • Notes: Composition written: 1736.
  • Running Time: 13 min. 21 sec.
  • Period Time: Baroque
  • Form: Concerto
  • Written: 1736

>Handel, George Frideric : Alexander's Feast, HWV 75
  • Performer: Nancy Argenta (Soprano)
  • Conductor: Harry Christophers
  • Ensemble: The Symphony of Harmony and Invention
  • Running Time: 6 min. 20 sec.
  • Period Time: Baroque
  • Form: Cantata/Oratorio
  • Written: 1736

>Handel, George Frideric : Organ Concerto in G minor, Op.4/1, HWV 289
  • Performer: Paul Nicholson (Organ)
  • Conductor: Harry Christophers
  • Ensemble: The Symphony of Harmony and Invention
  • Running Time: 14 min. 9 sec.
  • Period Time: Baroque
  • Form: Concerto
  • Written: circa 1735-1736

>Handel, George Frideric : Alexander's Feast, HWV 75
  • Conductor: Harry Christophers
  • Ensemble: The Symphony of Harmony and Invention
  • Running Time: 6 min. 20 sec.
  • Period Time: Baroque
  • Form: Cantata/Oratorio
  • Written: 1736