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Il Pastor Fido (1712)
David Bates, La Nuova Musica, Lucy Crowe et al
Looking back, an intimate pastoral was an unlikely follow-up to the splashy Rinaldo, Handel’s first London triumph, with its trumpets, crusaders and flying sorceress. First performed at the Queen’s Theatre in 1712, Il Pastor Fido managed only seven performances, one eyewitness complaining in his diary, “The Scene represented only ye Country of Arcadia. Ye Habits were old – ye Opera Short.”
Listening to this fresh and tuneful work today, however, it’s a mystery why we’ve had to wait until now for a recording.
This is the Harmonia Mundi debut of London-based La Nuova Musica, led by David Bates, and it’s an auspicious start. Handel’s delicate orchestration involves a mere 18 players: just strings and three woodwind, but the magical effects he achieves are impressively diverse.
Bates lovingly shapes every phrase with imagination and exemplary attention to detail – just listen to the exquisite pizzicato violins and flute in the sleep sequence in Act Two.
His line-up of young singers is equally impressive. Anna Dennis as the shepherd Mirtillo is a singer of great daring and considerable facility, characterising her arias with passionate flair and offering some bravura top notes.
Lucy Crowe’s beautiful soprano is brought into play most affectingly as the nymph Amarilli, while Katherine Manley, as the manipulative bad-girl, Eurilla, nearly steals the show with her high-octane performance.
The recording is clear, and although a slightly less resonant acoustic than the Temple Church might have been preferable for a secular work of this kind, Handel’s rediscovered gem is pretty much a winner from start to finish.