HANDEL: Acis and Galatea – Soloists/ Musica Angelica Baroque Orchestra/ Martin Haselbock, conductor – NCA Hybrid Multichannel SACD NCA 60183 (2 SACDs), 39:35; 50:25 ***** [Distr. by Naxos]:
While Handel composed Acis and Galatea during 1717-1718 while living at Cannons (residence of the Duke of Chandos) he struggled to devise a means of uniting drama with the English language. This was his first attempt at creating what he later called "My little opera" and what has frequently been labeled a pastoral opera. It was his first dramatic work in the English language. The libretto was written by John Gay with the possible assistance of the poet Alexander Pope. The libretto is based on Dryden’s English translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses published in the same year. The work was immediately successful and remained Handel’s most popular dramatic work in England during his lifetime. It has never left the opera repertory, no doubt assisted by Mozart’s superb adaptation made in 1788 when the struggling composer’s finances were at low ebb and he desperately need a sure-fire hit.
Acis and Galatea features music of great delicacy and elegance. There is a plaintive pastoral sadness that permeates the score, a sense of loss and impermanence that heightens the pathos of the music’s beauty. Handel shortened his recitatives, highlighting the choruses so that they function as commentary on the action and removed the dances usually found in pastoral masques. The beautiful melodies unfold quickly with few interruptions. The work has a unity and simplicity of structure that approaches dramatic perfection.
This superb recording captures the dramatic essence of this brilliant score. Both soloists and instrumentalists succeed in communicating its pastoral loveliness whilst never losing sight of its deeply emotional heart. Their elegant performances feature a regal simplicity and directness that always conveys the elusive plaintiveness that Handel went to such great pains to create. He composed what many music scholars consider the finest pastoral opera ever written. This exemplary performance is a splendid realization of Handel’s wondrous "little opera".
This multichannel SACD has a stunning lifelike sound with rich immediacy and presence. Both the instruments and the voices fill the deep soundstage with a close approximation of a live performance. Close your eyes and you feel like you’re there.
— Mike Birman