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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
This exceptional Handel oratorio is based on two of Milton's youthful poems, "L'Allegro" ("The Happy Man") and "il Penseroso" ("The Pensive Man"), as well as Charles Jennens' verse, "il Moderato" ("The Moderate Man")...thus the unwieldy title of this disc! No matter as this pastoral ode is Handel at his finest, in my opinion, just as enthralling a work as his Messiah. The music is clever, joyous and consistently inventive. Thanks to a dynamic all-star cast, this disc completely captures the work's spirit as it is filled with fine melodies and lightning-fast mood changes. The result is a classical vocal recording of the highest order.

The five soloists shine brightly. Tenor Ian Bostridge paints his words brilliantly and enunciates the text in a stunning, natural manner that fleshes out every aria and recitative. He can be truly dazzling, for instance, capturing the merriment of his Part 1 solo, "Haste thee nymph". Bostridge seems to recognize every mood with his flexible voice. Complementing him are two stellar sopranos, Lynne Dawson and Christine Brandes. The seasoned Dawson is in full and warm voice, and she has an excellent showcase for her subtlety of phrasing and passionate treatment of words. She can be equally persuasive in Allegro and Penseroso music, for example, in Part 1, with the song group starting with "Come, pensive nun", which is raptly done, and in the spirited "Mirth, admit me of thy crew" just afterward. Her final duet with Bostridge, "As steals the morn upon the night", is a high point. At some points, she could loosen up to better capture the frivolity of some of her solos, but her artistry is amazing nonetheless. Brandes proves up to the challenge of her more experienced colleagues and excels with the extended air, "Sweet bird, that shunn'st the noise of folly", and in her plaintive rendition of "Oft on a plat of rising ground". Bass Alastair Miles also proves himself here, singing the fast, acrobatic music, as well as the more introspective with ease and grace. His high point has to be "Come, with naïve lustre shine" which opens "il Moderato". But once again, I save my highest praise for last. As in nearly all his ensemble recordings, countertenor David Daniels is the resident standout. Some of the music he sings was assigned to the soprano voice but now has been transposed and assigned to his voice type. The results are wondrous, as Daniels sings with great delicacy and fine control. No one can induce a greater sense of romanticism as well as he can. His solo, "Hide me from Day's garish eye" is a particularly striking moment on this recording sung with requisite sweetness but instilled with his unparalleled vocal dexterity. This has to be the best piece on the entire two-disc set.

The Bach Choir sings immaculately with the right level of spirituality and drama. Conductor John Nelson leads the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, who play modern versus period instruments. The overall sound still feels authentic and quite moving. Highly recommended for Baroque music lovers and a must-have for Handel followers. If you enjoy this style of music, I also recommend getting the 1999 Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra recording of Thomas Arne's "The Masque of Alfred", which prominently features Daniels and Brandes.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
BOSTRIDGE 'HO-HO'S'WHILE DANIELS IS TRAGIC, BUT IT ALL COMES OUT AS HANDELIAN MAGIC!
This composition is a Pastoral Ode in three parts after the poems by John Milton rearranged by James Harris and Charles Jennens..They are written for two sopranos (Christine Brandes & Lynne Dawson), male alto (David Daniels), tenor (Ian Bostridge) and Alastair Miles (bass); accompanied by Harpsichord, organ, cello and double bass.

"L'Allegro" composed in 1740 is a unique hybrid,half ode, half oratorio,retaining a flavor of the theatre. The "Pensoroso" airs probe more deeply into the gloomier temprements, but the Allegro movements have an unrestrained exuberance that is infectious! Jennens supplied the words for "iL Moderato" and used part of Milton's Ode 'At A Solemn Music'.

I can't imagine why anyone would give this disc less than 5 stars! The entire recording is filled with Handel's lovely melodies and sung so well by all the singers. Ian Bostridge's rendition of "Haste thee Nymph" with its jolly Ho Ho Ho's followed by the Chorus singing "Come and Trip It as you go" is wonderfully entertaining; David Daniel's skillful singing, particularly of "Sometimes Let Gorgeous Tragedy" is not to be missed by his fans. There is simply one "bouncy" tune after another throughout both discs. HOW COULD YOU NOT LIKE IT!!????
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on April 11, 2003
This is a marvelous recording--infinitely superior, in my opinion, to that of John Eliot Gardiner. The rendering of Milton's wonderful poems is done with so much feeling and intelligence that it adds another level of meaning to the words. The soloists are thrilling, especially the counter-tenor, who gives an essential sense of the Baroque use of boys or castrati. While the Gardiner version employs a boy soprano (as did Handel in the first performance of this oratorio), I find his voice weak, and interesting only as a point of comparison and historical interest.
I am not impressed with the idea of "authentic" musical production--I would much rather hear the lively pacing of this recording than the so-called authentic (comatose) tempi of the Gardiner recording. I also prefer contemporary instruments to the ancient or imitation-ancient instruments that are supposed to enhance "authentic" productions. Case in point--the gorgeous transverse flute in this version versus the reedy piping of the recorder in the Gardiner version. Another point: this version includes airs that are left out of the Gardiner version. I suppose there are many iterations of the score since Handel changed it many times in his lifetime...but I love "But, O sad virgin, that thy power..." which is entirely missing from the Gardiner CD. All-in-all, choose this version--you will never tire of listening to it.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 13, 2009
... and every score that he carried from Italy to England - his own and those by others - was fair game for recycling in an oratorio or two. But I, my musicological friends, have spent forty years ferreting in the archives of Whistmouster Abbey, Derbyshire, and at last I can shriek my triumphant eureka. I've found the autograph score of "L'Allegro et il Penseroso", and the name on the score is ... HENRY PURCELL!

Well, perhaps I was dreaming. But there's no question that this great "pastoral ode", written in 1740 when Handel had effectively surrendered his efforts to popularize Italian opera in England, is a resurrection of the distinctive English 'manner' most finely elaborated by Purcell. I have to believe that Handel knew Purcell's music; the resemblance in this composition is so striking. The evocation of English landscape in this semi-oratorio is equally striking, and makes me think that Handel intended a sincere tribute to his adopted land. If ever you'll hear the downs and streams, the oaks and heathers of Fair Albion in music, it will be in "L'Allegro, il Penseroso ed il Moderato". The first two movements are settings of the poem by John Milton, which does hark back to the age of Purcell and which also smacks of tribute to English sensibilities.

This is not a "definitive' performance by any means, though it is an awfully good one. Soprano Christine Brandes steals the limelight from my "English cousin" Lynne Dawson, singing the two show-stopper arias Sweet Bird, that shunn'st the noise of Folly & But oh! Sad Virgin. The former is accompanied by flute obbligato, and the latter by cello, and they are among Handel's supreme accomplishments, worth the price of hearing again and again. There are also several airs for the male voices accompanied by obbligato brass instruments, which are not so far short in compositional eloquence but which are less impressive on the recording because of the use of modern orchestral French horn and trumpets. Conductor John Nelson coaxes a solid Baroque-like performance from his modern strings, but his winds are less convincing, and the bassoon, whose turn to play forth comes in 'Il Moderato', falls far short.

Alto David Daniels sings well though I can 'hear' another counter-tenor -- Gerard Lesne or Michael Chance, perhaps -- singing with more thrilling affect. Tenor Ian Bostridge and bass Alastair Miles deliver warm performances on their arias but lack expressivity in their recitativos.

There are numerous recordings of this music, including an early effort under the baton of John Eliot Gardiner which many fans praise highly. Gardiner omits the third portion, Il Moderato, and perhaps with reason. The text, by Handel's collaborator Charles Jennens, isn't worthy of being a side-car to Milton's poem, and the music is correspondingly less inspired. Handel himself omitted Il Moderato in subsequent revival performances.

Still, on the whole, this recording conducted by John Nelson and featuring the artistry of Christine Brandes is the one I would recommend for any listener encountering this glorious music for the first time.
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24 of 36 people found the following review helpful
on November 17, 2000
Not very long time ago, in my review (sorry for this self reference) of the failed recording of "Alcina" under Christie, I dreamt about a new Handel performance practice - with modern instruments and "main stream" singers. In this recording, modern instruments are used, as to the singers - they are a mixed lot, Lynne Dawson being the only real baroque "specialist". Apparently, it is Ian Bostridge and David Daniels who are supposed to be the main attraction of this new Handel set - "two of the finest young vocalists together for the first time" cries the advertisement. Ironically, the only singer whose name really deserves to be highlighted here is Lynne Dawson - her experience brings to this music everything that the "young vocalists" seem not to understand.
Nelson, who gave us a delightful recording of Semele some years ago, sounds as if he is impatient with Handel (I had the same impression while listening to his Giulio Cesare at the MET last year) or maybe he simply doesn't understand what this great oratorio is about. Here it seems to be about a gathering of "two of the finest young vocalists" and possibly getting it over with as quickly as possible. Everything, including these great melancholic passages, some of the best contemplative arias baroque has to offer, is taken with such a speed, that the whole oratorio is over in almost no time. It is melancholy squelched by Prozac (or whetever is fashionable at the moment). Why David Daniels was cast in Penseroso's part will remain a mystery to me. Does he understand what he is singing about? It is beautiful singing, to be sure, Daniels's voice is certainly an impressive instrument and its possessor is clearly proud of it, but in his self-admiration he seems to forget about the meaning of Penseroso's music and words. Maybe he simply doesn't feel it (listen for example to his recitativo and aria "Sometimes let the gorgeous Tragedy"). Other arias of Penseroso are taken by Christine Brandes who has a pleasant and flexible voice, but it is not enough to make this music sound credible. To listen to her "Sweet bird' is like to see it smashed by a car running 70 mph! There is no hint of contemplation or melancholic dreamery in it - her singing left me completely unmoved (try Lorna Anderson on Hyperion!). Brandes is more successful in some of the Allegro parts which seem to suit her better, in fact much better than they suit Ian Bostridge whose Jolly Man is really a ... melancholic! Again, the irony of casting? Bostridge is an intelligent singer who knows how to treat words, but here he does a little bit too much with them and his singing sounds somewhat calculated. As I said, only Lynne Dawson, a really experienced baroque singer of very special vocal gifts tries to leave some message with us, but it is not enough to rescue the whole recording. Again, her plangent and slightly dreamy tone doesn't evoke the pure joy called for in Allegro's passages, but in this comedy of casting errors she is the only real victor.
I can't understand why, just a year after a really great recording of "L'Allegro..." under King has appeared, we should need another one. There are so many Handelian treasures that should be recorded and who could better help make them popular than the young singers of the day? If you care for this marvellous music and for Milton's poetry, don't miss one of the greatest Handel recordings, Robert King's rendition of this oratorio on Hyperion (incidentally, by some very strange coincidence it lost to Christie's limpid Acis and Galatea in the Gramophone 2000 Awards by just 1 point). If you want to hear real melancholy and real joy, that's the recording to go with. But if you care about the countertenor and the tenor of the day, this new set is apparently made with you in mind. Still, it is such a great music that if these stars will help make it more popular than the King set did, the better for Handel. Those who didn't hear the older recording may not understand what all this bitter talk is about, but once you try comparing these two, the merits of the Hyperion set will be obvious. If you decide to choose only one, go with King!
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on January 14, 2011
I have both this recording and the King recording, but this is the one I prefer. The tempos are decidedly faster and I prefer Nelson's soloists for the most part. This recording is much more immediate and bright than the King recording (a product of modern versus baroque instruments?), although it still has the spacious acoustic that comes from a recording in a church. The one exception to this is the recording of the David Daniels solos. While his voice is a delight to listen to, there's an annoying difference in the acoustic on the pieces he sings when compared with the acoustic on the rest of the recording. I sounds as if the Daniels solos were recorded in a studio and then added after.

Other than that, it's a lovely album, which is well worth the purchase price.
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Of the 3 recordings I have, this is the one I listen to most. There is nothing wrong with the tempi, they flow naturally with no over-wrought lagging for emotional effect. It's not an opera and there are no characters to "cast" any of the singer as. [Daniels is perfection! His rendering of "Hide me from Day's garish eye" is unbeatable.] There is no melodrama or schmaltz here. Handle was far cleverer than to make the L'Allegro parts all happy and Il Penseroso's all sad. There is subtle balance between emotion and virtuosity. A masterpiece worth having several versions of.
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on September 16, 2014
No program notes/libretto included
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21 of 35 people found the following review helpful
This recording has certainly generated a lot of talk, which I certainly welcome, as one who has been thrilled by the resurgence of Handel's popularity. This is also my fourth recording of the piece, so while I am rather critical of what I perceive to be this one's failings, I'm delighted to have it for the variety it provides. Firstly, I must agree with those assessments that find this version to be too fast, both the allegro as well as the penseroso sections. Reflection in singing is vital to this quirky composition, far more than show-off vocalization -- including a large occurence of overly snappy consonants. Secondly, I feel some grave errors occured in casting. I own many recordings featuring Ms.Dawson, Mr. Miles, Mr. Bostridge, Mr. Daniels, and even Ms. Brandes. I don't object to them in themselves, but for their problematic and personal styles. Ms. Dawson is FAR too warbly, her high notes have ALWAYS sounded pinched and I wonder if I am alone in finding her singing to border on the tortuous all too frequently. Mr. Miles, a great Claudio (Handel's Agrippina), for instance, is blustery in the worst way. Mr. Bostridge is cold,cold, cold even as he is brilliant (observe his photo). The tenor sounds possitively angry as he sings "laughter ho-ho-holding both his sides" as if such a gimicy piece were beneath his dignity, as I'm sure it is. I enjoy a countertenor addition here (why not?), but I keep wondering WHAT people find so enthralling about this voice? If this were a woman performer I would find her rather uninteresting. Is this fascination predicated on reverse gender-discrimination? I sincerely hope not. Perhaps unknown, but the odd-label with the Boston Baroque has the incomparable Mary Westbrook-Geha, who is the antithesis of a diva (while Daniels has been described as a "fake" diva, surely a little too harsh)and whose warm and inspired interpretations thrill the ear and the soul. And finally, while I rather like Ms. Brandes (Scarlatti's cantatas vol. 2), and while much of her singing is lovely, she embarasses herself with her inability to perform the vocal acrobatics (a series of closely-spaced trills and sixteenth notes) in "But oh, sad virgin that thy power" w/cello accompagniment,the real gem of this piece. All this being said, I would like now to recommend NOT King's recording (other than Susan Gritton, who is wonderful)since I find fault with Lorna Anderson on the same grounds as Ms. Dawson's vocal profile and I think Paul Agnew's performance borders on the shmaltzy, but rather John Eliot Gardiner's immortal -- if tragically truncated -- 1983 recording. Who is purer and soars higher than Patrizia Kwella? More thrilling than Marie McLaughlin? More dramatic than Jennifer Smith? More warm than Mawldyn Davies? More wonderful than Stephen Varcoe? More masterly than Martin Hill? This is not to say that absolutely everything is perfect (the recording levels seem fishy), but this remains at the pinacle. Also available to you from the folks at Amazon.com!
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5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 15, 2000
David Daniels and Ian Bostridge add to their growing lists of distinguished recordings. Daniels' "Now at last my weary age" shows his incredible breath control, rich lower register, and signature tonal beauty, and Bostridge delivers the Milton/ Handel with clarity and incisiveness. I'm hoping for a Daniels, Bostridge, Terfel recording of Handel's Saul.
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