Handel: Song for St. Cecilia’s Day; Look Down, Harmonious Saint; and Concerto Grosso
This album consists of three of Handel’s great works: Song for St Cecilia’s Day (HWV 76); Look Down, Harmonious Saint (HWV 124); and Concerto Grosso Op.6 No.7 (HWV 325).
The opening overture is beautiful, typically Handel, with long phrases and movement in all parts, lots of ‘cello runs and light hearted courtly dancing music, it makes you want to break out into a waltz!
Following the overture is a recitative from the Tenor, in this case the superb Harrow and Cambridge educated Ed Lyons. He was a choral scholar at St John’s College; his voice is stunning. He deserves the great acclaim he is receiving throughout the world on the classical music scene. The Soprano soloist, Mary Bevan is also Cambridge educated and has also received great acclaim.
Track five – ‘The Trumpet’s loud clangour’ – is a highly entertaining piece; Handel has the Tenor singing John Dryden’s lyrics, “the double double double beat of the thundering drum, cries hark…. Charge.. tis too late to retreat”, where the music tells the story as well as the words.
Track seven is an air for Soprano ‘The soft complaining flute’. All of these track titles are so very descriptive! This track is beautiful – there are only four lines, all of which are worthy of printing:
“The soft complaining Flute
In dying notes discovers
The woes of hopeless lovers,
Whose dirge is whisper’d by the
Fantastic and very apt for St Cecelia (the patron saint of musicians). I would recommend reading the album sleeve, which includes the poem; it’s dramatic and entertaining!
Track nine uses the chamber organ in a delightful and precious way. It reminds the listener that the organ can be a delicate instrument, too!
The final track, the Grand Chorus, is for Soprano solo and chorus; it follows the pattern of a question and answer. The Soprano sings an unaccompanied recitative and the chorus repeat the lines and expand on them with accompaniment. Bevan then sings that the “trumpet shall be heard on high” at which point the trumpet blasts in!
The Concerto Grosso begins with a Largo – Allegro and the whole work takes on a more relaxed approach to the previous one. Handel has composed the baroque courtly music in both simple time or meter and compound time. The last movement in this work is the Hornpipe and here we see a number of sections within the piece; you feel the sense of ending and then Handel goes on and expands the piece ever further. The beauty of much baroque music is that it is easy on the listener’s ear, so that you could be forgiven for feeling that this is simple music. However, this is not the case, particularly not with Handel, as there are many complex lines that could be melodies within their own right, yet they fit nicely and harmoniously with the melody that we are hearing.
The last movement ‘Look Down, Harmonious Saint’ is written for Tenor. The words were written by Newburgh Hamilton, a friend of Handel; again Lyons shows off his talent from outstanding breath control to strong high notes and impeccable diction, a combination which is extremely rare. One could argue that Lyon’s voice is perfection personified!
The music is typical baroque and typical Handel. The choir sing with a great understanding of the era, and for a choir of less than twenty, make a rich and full sound. They were picked from some of the best choirs in the UK to perform with Ludas Baroque. Many are accomplished soloists in their own right; hence the extreme talent which is oozing out of this music!
The disc was recorded in Edinburgh in Canongate Kirk (the Scottish name for a church). You will find yourself listening to this disc over and over again, and possibly (as I did) ‘chair dancing’ whilst humming along, not that I even begin to emulate Ed Lyon. He is certainly a Tenor to look out for if you have not come across him before. Highly recommended.