Boston Early Music Festival singers and period instrument players, co-directed by lutenists Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs, are in cracking form on this studio recording of Handel’s buoyant pastoral. The vocal ensemble are exceptional, especially in their opening number O the Pleasure of the Plains (which always reminds me of For unto us a Child is born from Messiah).
Handel wrote Acis and Galatea for the Duke of Chandos to celebrate his marriage and the building of his lavish mansion, the Cannons, in Middlesex. The house had its own orchestra as well as extensive gardens with the latest water features. It didn’t survive for long, however, for within 20 years it was demolished and its features sold off when Chandos’s fortune took a dive in the South Sea Bubble.
In Ovid’s tale, the shepherd Acis is metamorphosed into a fountain by his lover Galatea after the jealous cyclops Polyphemus launches a boulder which crushes him. Thus the gardens of Cannons made the perfect setting for this pastoral tale. Handel was briefly the Duke’s resident composer while things were quiet in London (and where he was having trouble managing to stage his Italian operas).
Hats off to the excellent soloists, tenor Aaron Sheehan and soprano Teresa Wakim in the title roles, and bass-baritone Douglas Williams as Polyphemus who gets the best tune in the catchy O Ruddier than the Cherry. A lovely bonus is the cantata Sarei Troppo Felice featuring soprano Amanda Forsyth.