Acis and Galatea
in an arrangement by Felix Mendelssohn
Acis (Tenor) – Ben Hulett
Galatea (Soprano) – Jeni Bern
Polyphemus (Bass) – Brindley Sherratt
Damon (Tenor) – Nathan Vale
Choir of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford
Stephen Darlington, conductor
A few years ago I was made aware of the fact that the Bodeian Library holds an original manuscript of Mendelssohn’s arrangement of Handel’s masque Acis and Galatea. I thought it would be interesting to produce an edition of this manuscript for performance in 2009, the 250th anniversary of Handel’s death and the 200th anniversary of Mendelssohn’s birth. The bulk of the work on the edition was undertaken by William Dawes (then a Lay Clerk in the Cathedral Choir), and this edition was first performed with the Oxford Philomusica Orchestra (Oxford University’s professional Orchestra in Residence), in the Sheldonian Theatre in June 2009. It was always my intention that we should produce a recording of the work and I am happy to say that the choir soloists and orchestra and I spent several days last February doing just that.
Mendelssohn is well-know for his revival of J S Bach’s St Matthew Passion, but he was equally acquainted with the music of Handel and, on the instruction of his teacher Carl Zelter, Mendelssohn orchestrated a number of Handel’s works including Acis and Galatea. There are those who have regarded these arrangements, much as Mozart’s, as academic exercises in becoming acquainted with the earlier composer’s style. However, Mendelssohn’s version has an integrity of its own which translates Handel’s original into a different aesthetic world. There are few alterations to the musical substance, but significant alterations to the orchestration and the response to the drama of the narrative. The result is a lively and imaginative version of Handel’s masterpiece which provides a fascinating insight into Mendelssohn’s imagination as a composer.