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on 13 April 2013
Theres isn't a work by Handel which does not contain superbly conceived drama and music. I always thought Il Pastor Fido was meant to be a bit dull/boring and understood this from others' comments. There are some wonderful things in this so-called 'slight' opera. This 1712 version is fascinating because for the first time one can hear precisely what Handel originally intended and the sound dimensions he had in mind; if it was an evocation of the remote world of Arcadia, Handel - and La Nuova Musica - have done it superbly.
The scoring is indeed light, particularly in the beginning, but La Nuova Musica make the most of this and convey a sense of the light freshness of the arcadian landscape and the deft subtleties that Handel composes with - a concealed art, as indeed the pastoral tradition always embodied in any art form. However Handel does change the soundscape later, as the all too human world obtrudes, such as in 'ritorna adesso Amor' and there seems to be as much colour and variety - but on a smaller scale - as many of his other works. There are some amazing arias such as Occhi belli which is very unusual and hypnotic with its pizzicato strings and Tu nel piagarmi and the closing duet. So don't be persuaded this is not fine Handel.

The singing is superbly done by all and it is so refreshing to hear up-and-coming singers as well of course as the superb Lucy Crowe. They all retain that sense of the fresh clear, almost innocent, other worldliness of arcadia. Amazing crescendo work in occhi belli and Madeline Shaw was impressive with the breath control. I was even impressed by Clint van der Linde who, for a counter-tenor, sounded excellent and who has nearly managed to eliminate that empty hollowness one hears at the centre of count-tenor singing. His Tu nel piagarmi was beautifully sung.
Fantastic playing - richly and subtly coloured and alive, gets power/subtlety balance just right for this work. The recording sound, maybe the church, produces a wonderful clean open sound which compliments the subject.
My only very small reservation was that there is still a faint hint of the English Handelian 'squareness' to the style of playing, perhaps a last remnant of the 'traditional' playing style of Handel in this country; if La Nuova Musica could cultivate a hint of an Italian bounce, ease and sensuousness to their Handel playing - they would be stratospheric in my view. Waiting for their next Handel recording very eagerly indeed!!
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After Handel's dramatic explosion onto the London stage in 1711 with Rinaldo, his next work to be composed for the English capital was "Il Pastor Fido". By comparison it is a shorter and relatively understated and unambitious work, and in form and style much more like an extended cantata or serenata than an opera.

The libretto was adapted by Giacomo Rossi from a well-known play by Battista Guarini, a tragicommedia pastorale, but massively cut down - the plot had to be explained to the audience in the printed wordbook. The pastoral themes enabled Handel to recycle some of the texts and music from the pastoral cantatas he had composed during his Italian sojourn. It is possible that this was something of a filler work by Handel, saving his energies for his third London opera Teseo which ran later that same season.

It didn't seem to be all that popular with the punters, performed only seven times in its first season. It was however revived, rewritten and expanded, in May 1734 for thirteen performances and again with an extended ballet prologue "Terpsicore" by the famed dancers of Marie Sallé and new arias for Carestini in November of the same year for a further five performances.

Surprisingly perhaps, this is the first recording of the original 1712 version. It's all solid performances by La Nuova Musica and the vocal artists (Lucy Crowe, Anna Dennis, Katherine Manley, Madeleine Shaw, Clint van der Linde & Lisandro Abadie), but as intimated earlier, don't expect any great fireworks here. If you like Handel's cantatas you will undoubtedly like this too, but dramatic opera it is not.

The two discs come packaged in a digipak inside a hinged cardboard box, along with a well-presented booklet which supplies some brief but interesting notes, a comprehensive and very useful synopsis, libretto and translations.
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