Handel: Apollo e Dafne
Beyond its musical riches, this medley of 1950s BBC radio broadcasts (from the Richard Itter Collection) opens a portal on England’s post-war Handelian revival. It is no accident that all these performances involve Thurston Dart, as harpsichordist, conductor or musicologist. His energy inspired a generation of musicians to explore neglected works by Handel and a host of other baroque composers, in a lithe chamber style more appropriate to their work than the heavyweight, orchestral grandeur favoured by previous generations. The efforts of Dart and other performers featured here paved the way for those more radical, ‘historically informed’ performance practices, which swept all before them in later decades.
It's only as volumes are released that we begin to become aware of the breadth of interests displayed by Richard Itter of Lyrita fame, many of whose off-air recordings are now being released by Cameo Classics. A set of Haydn symphonies has just appeared that spans the years 1952-60 and here we have a sterling single-disc focus on Handel, orchestral and vocal, from the years 1955 and 1957…
The centrepiece of the programme is the cantata Apollo e Dafne, performed at the Royal Festival Hall on 10 January 1955… Here Geraint Jones and his eponymous orchestra accompany Thomas Hemsley (baritone) and Arda Mandikian (soprano) in a 43-minute performance that comfortably surpasses it in conviction and theatrical flair. …Helmsley's confident divisions bite without strain and he puts across both recits and arias with convincing strength of voice and malleability of characterisation. He is thoroughly charming in Come rosa in su la spina. The winds – the bassoon and oboe especially – make a fine showing and the orchestral introduction to the soprano's Felicissima quest'alma is beguiling indeed, as is Mandikian's singing. The ultimately devastating movement from the tripping gaiety of Mie piante correte to Dafne, dove sei tu is done with emotive candour and quasi-operatic force. Yes, the recitatives are slower than one would like but that was the fashion and the move thence to the succeeding arias a little ponderous but heard sympathetically this is all very enjoyable. It's been captured in excellent sound; clear, crisp and without distortion.
here are no texts but full and helpful notes from Christopher Webber. Some listeners seem incapable of turning back the musical clock, so mired have they become in current performance practice. But these examples are hardly monolithic and stand in the continuum of Handel performance practice in Britain in the mid-point of the twentieth century. As such they have something to say and offer leading conductors, instrumentalists, and singers in full communicative flight.