The musicological preparations for this recording were thorough – a good edition, historically correct instruments (more or less), a plausible pitch, and the "right" numbers of singers and players (one voice per part, and a very small band). But musically it leaves much to be desired. One does not need Wilhelm Furtwangler to conduct "Acis and Galatea" (though Adrian Boult had a good shot at it in 1959). We do however need a conductor who can bring a little ebb-and-flow to his phrasing (for Handel's lines are often vocal even when not sung) and one who's noticed how often baroque music is based on dance forms (minuets, gigues and so on) and can let their underlying rhythms be felt. Christian Curnyn does not yet possess this equipment. Instead – like many current baroque "specialists" - he just keeps regular pulse going, and drives the music a bit too fast in order to keep the band's attention – "too fast" meaning faster than the players can manage comfortably. The result sounds simultaneously dull and panic-stricken. Some of the singers know better, and try to do better, but, poor things, they don't stand much chance as the music chugs on remorselessly behind them, and sometimes in desperation they resort to over-the-top histrionics and improbable ornamentation.
It's true, of course, that "Acis" is difficult to lift off the page, much more so I think than even Handel's operas. The trouble is that it's a pastoral, a form which seems absurd to us, and did to many in the 18th century – all those nymphs and shepherds who'd never smelt a sheep. Bathos lurks at every turn, as recent attempts to choreograph the work have demonstrated all too clearly. Even very experienced Handel conductors – I mean John Eliot Gardiner and William Christie – tend to drive "Acis" hard, as if they feel afraid to let it speak for itself. The best version I know is than recorded by John Butt and his Dunedin Consort in 2007. It is even more academically "correct" than this Chandos set, but Butt is enough of a musician to offer us rhythmic light and shade even at brisk tempos, and is much better recorded.
New recording, highly praised by Rupert Christiansen, opera critic of the Daily Telegraph, which is why I ordered it. It is a much loved work, since I first heard it in 1961 in the version by Peter Pears and Joan Sutherland. That too remains a favourite, but this new version has many advantages and is a refreshing alternative.