Monday, 19 February 2018

Musical Arcadia: Handel at Vauxhall

Handel at Vauxhall
Handel at Vauxhall, volume 2; Mary Bevan, Claire Bessent, Eleanor Dennis, Benjamin Bevan, Charles MacDougall, Nicky Spence, Greg Tassell, London Early Opera, Bridget Cunningham; Signum Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Feb 13 2018 Star rating: 4.0
London Early Opera returns to Vauxhall with a further evocation of the garden's musical charms

Bridget Cunningham and London Early Opera have followed up their Handel in Vauxhall with a second volume, on Signum Classics, which explores the music of Vauxhall Gardens. The disc presents music by Handel and his contemporaries and is in the format that was typically used for concerts at Vauxhall, so we have Handel's Concerto in A minor Op.6, No.4 and his music for Comus, alongside music by William Boyce, John Stanley, Thomas Gladwin, John Lampe, and Johann Adolph Hasse, performed by Mary Bevan, Claire Bessent, Eleanor Dennis, Benjamin Bevan, Charles MacDougall, Nicky Spence, Greg Tassell.

One of the features of Cunningham's Handel in Vauxhall series is the debunking of the idea that the music performed at Vauxhall Gardens was largely trivial. In fact, though there is a wide variety, there is no stinting on the more serious items. So we have Handel's Concerto in A minor from his great Opus 6 set, and in fact the proprietor of Vauxhall, Jonathan Tyers, subscribed to four sets of the original publication.
Alongside the concerto is something a little more rarified, the music from Comus. This was written for private performance at the home of the Earl of Gainsborough in 1745, but the text extols the virtues of an Arcadian idyll in just the way that Vauxhall was described, and in fact there was at one time a Temple of Comus there. There is two further Handel items, a short hornpipe which was written for Vauxhall and the patriotic song, written in 1746 after the Duke of Cumberland's victory of Bonnie Prince Charlie, the rather cumbersomely named A song on the Victory Obtain's over the Rebels by his Royal Highness the Duke of Cumberland or From scourging rebellion.

The programme opens with William Boyce's Spring Gardens (Rural Beauty or Vaux-Hal Gardens) sung by Greg Tassell, a song extolling the virtues of Vauxhall, a genre which was popular at the concerts. Here we also have Colin's Description of Vauxhall or Green-Wood Hall by Thomas Gladwin; at eight minutes long this takes all of Nicky Spence's story-telling skill to hold the attention in what is a basic strophic song. Other songs in the genre include Lampe's Farewell to Vaux Hall sung again by Greg Tassell, and Thomas Gladwin's The Ladies in Vaux-Hall Gardens to the British Officers at Dettingen (sung by Eleanor Dennis) which combines Arcadian description with patriotic sentiment!

Songs of a more general character include John Stanley's The Power of Music and Beauty (sung by Mary Bevan) and Roger and Sue a ballad to a Favourite Air by Sig.r Hasse (sung by Nicky Spence) which combines an English comic text with an aria originally from Hasse's Cleofide. Italian opera itself was a genre almost entirely absent from Vauxhall, clearly the temperament of the entertainment with its emphasis on British composers was antithetic to Opera Seria. The last item on the disc is great fun. A Loyal Song (sung by Charles MacDougall and Benjamin Bevan) is a lively, early version of the National Anthem.

The CD booklet includes an admirable background article from David Coke (author of Vauxhall Gardens: A history) along with background to the music by Bridget Cunningham.

This is a charming disc, a lovely complement to the first volume, and like that one it takes us into the heart of the music-making at Vauxhall. Never less than charming, the music must have had an added glow for being performed in the open air. Not all the songs are at the same level, and one or two fall into the charmingly interesting category, but overall we get a fine picture of music in the gardens. Bridget Cunningham and her team bring a lively charm and sense of engagement to the music.

William Boyce - Spring Gardens (Rural Beauty of Vaux-Hal Garden)
George Frideric Handel - Concerto in A minor, Op.6, No. 4 HWV 322
John Stanley - The Power of Music and Beauty
George Frideric Handel - A Song on the Victory over the Rebels
Thomas Gladwin - Colin's Description of Vauxhall or Green-Wood Hall
George Frideric Handel - Hornpipe in D major
John Lampe - The Farewel to Vaux Hall
George Frideric Handel - Comus HWV44
Thomas Gladwin - The Ladies of Vaux-hal Gardens to the British Officers in Dettingen
Johann Adolph Hasse - Roger and Sue, A Ballad
Anonymous - A Loyal Song
Claire Bessent (soprano)
Mary Bevan (soprano)
Eleanor Dennis (soprano)
Charles MacDougal (tenor)
Nicky Spence (tenor)
Greg Tassell (tenor)
Benjamin Bevan (baritone)
London Early Opera
Bridget Cunningham (director)
Available from Amazon.

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Motherhood and memory: Helen Grime's Bright Travellers at the Wigmore Hall - Concert review (****)
  • Bernstein, Gubaidulina & more: violinist Vadim Gluzman on the importance of contemporary repertoire  - Interview
  • Music in a cold climate: the sounds of Hansa Europe - CD review (***)
  • Spices! Perfumes! Toxins! Approachably melodic percussion concerto - CD review - CD review (***)
  • A Triptych: Irrational Theatre at the King's Head - Opera review (***)
  • Topsy-turvy fun: Cal McCrystal directs G&S's Iolanthe - Opera review (*****)
  • Old-fashioned passion: Benjamin Godard's Dante - CD review
  • Korngold's Die tote Stadti at the Semperoper in Dresden - Opera review (****)
  • Powerful stuff: Verdi's La forza del Destino in Cardiff - Opera review (****)
  • A Portrait: composer Dai Fujikura introduces the music at the forthcoming Wigmore Hall concert  - my interview
  • Wagner Der Ring des Nibelungen - Willy Decker's production at the Semperoper, Dresden - opera review
  • A Heine songbook - Robin Tritschler and Christopher Glynn - concert review
  • Intimate and finely judged: Orlando Gibbons complete consort anthems   - CD review
  • Home

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