L’Allegro, Il Penseroso



Iestyn Davies took his opportunity to show himself a magnificent counter-tenor, powerful and flexible, with ample tone and proper respect for the words of his aria. Soprano Virginia Hatfield was no less impressive as she happily chirruped in a bird song fluently accompanied by Hannah Riddell's flute, and Malin Christensson and Benjamin Hulett combined in a duet that melted every care away.

These were just three of the many delights that Handel offers in a work with the musical strengths of his oratorios but without complicated tales from the classics or Scripture.

Instead, borrowing text from Milton, he is content to contrast cheerfulness with melancholy until finally, in the spirit of the Enlightenment, he finds true contentment in the middle way.

Richard Egarr conducted this performance with just 18 selected young soloists who had prepared it in master classes under his direction, and the Britten-Pears Baroque Orchestra brought life to an endlessly inventive score. Wind instruments added colour that was all the more vivid because used so sparingly. Trumpets created moments of heroism, a horn hinted at country sport and Cait Walker's oboe could not have been more sprightly. Only Kate Hearne's cello disappointed when allowed the chance to shine.

Clarity and crisp articulation gave distinction in music that makes technical demands. All the intricate patterns of lavish instrumentation were used to communicate the nuances of emotion. Deftly stage-managed, the singers came forward for individual arias, then modestly returned to form a particularly fine resonant chorus.

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