This rustic love story is a Handel masterpiece
HUNDREDS of candles burned in the vastness of St Mary's where the second Bath Bachfest opened not with Bach, but Handel.
Moreover it was a real Handel rarity, a performance of his Masque, Acis and Galatea, his first dramatic work in English. It tells the story of rustic love blasted by a cruel monster Polyphemus. who destroys Acis and leaves Galatea to a life of mourning. The work is full of luscious melodies, dramatic rages, heart-rending laments and brisk choruses, and boasts an orchestral score full of dazzling string and woodwind writing.
Conductor Paul McCreesh showed from the first bars a grip and zip that promised musical fireworks, and the five-strong vocal line-up matched him with incisive, vital singing; they didn't just stand and deliver the delicious arias, they acted the words, roaming about the church, smiling and frowning and interacting with each other and the audience.
Some of the work was extremely familiar. O Ruddier Than The Cherry, and Love In Her Eyes Sits Playing were once both popular party pieces. The sad heroine, sung exquisitely by Mhairi Lawson, with her round tone and beautiful line, has some melting solos, and bass Ashley Riches as the monster almost stole the show with his facial clowning, as well as his vocal agility. The soloists made a fine ensemble chorus, too and their crisp precision was echoed by some superb period instrument playing, especially from the woodwind section which has to cope with truly virtuosic writing; McCreesh's springy rhythms and challenging speeds made this Handel masterpiece blaze with life.
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The Bachfest, offshoot of the Mozartfest, has expanded to three days, with five concerts, and yes, the rest were mostly devoted to Bach.