HANDEL: Alexander's Feast. Ode for the Birthday of Queene Anne
Soloists/Oriana Concert Choir and Orchestra/ Chamber Orchestra of the Vienna Symphony/Alfred Deller, cond.
Vanguard Classics OVC 8113/114 (2 CDs) (M) (ADD) TT: 2 hrs. 4 min

Whenever George Frideric Handel needed a boost at the box office he would revive Alexander's Feast (sometimes called The Power of Music). Premiered at Covent Garden on February 19, 1736, this ode to St. Cecilia on a poem by John Dryden contains all those elements loved by his London public: vocal fireworks, memorable tunes, and enough visual spectacle to delight both commoner and nobility. Also, as Handel's most successful setting to date of an English text, Alexander's Feast led to a series of major masterpieces including Saul (1739), Israel in Egypt (1739), Messiah (1742) and Samson (1743).

Listening to this fine performance recorded in 1964, one can easily understand why Alexander's Feast was such a popular and commercial hit. There's so much to admire and enjoy—especially choruses like the spirited "Break his bands of sleep asunder," and powerful "The many rend the skies with loud applause." And several solos are special such as the boisterous "Drinking is the soldier's pleasure" (as sung by bass Maurice Bevan), and the sublime "War, he sung, is toil and trouble" (tenor Max Worthley). The opening countertenor aria "Eternal source of light divine" (magnificently sung by mark Deller) is the highlight of Handel's Ode for the Birthday of Queene Anne, composed in 1713 to honor the queen as "the creator of a lasting peace on earth." Famed counter-tenor-turned-conductor Alfred Deller conducts both works in this CD reissue. A fine set, especially for the growing army of Handelphiles (of which I am one).

K.S. (Oct. 2000)