I have owned and loved this recording since it first appeared over thirty years ago and can find no reason to replace it with a more modern, "historically informed" version. The ECO under Leppard were specialists even then in capturing the sprung rhythms and sprightly gait of Handel at his most melodious. This might have been composed relatively late in the heyday of Italian opera in London but it was staged in the same year (1735) as another Handelian masterpiece, "Alcina" and although Handel was moving into English oratorio there was still plenty of life and box-office in the fading art form which had brought him to fame. He had superb singers at his disposal; fortunately, so does Leppard here with a cast quite unrivalled today and headed by Janet Baker in her prime, deeply moving in "Scherza infida" and absolutely thrilling in her bravura aria, "Dopo notte". This is a Handel performance to rank alongside her "Julius Caesar" for the ENO.
However, she is by no means the whole show. Edith Mathis and Norma Burrowes were possessors of two of the loveliest sopranos on the circuit and both sing with sweet-toned beauty. Sam Ramey as the wronged, upstanding king brings his rich, sonorous, flexible bass to bear on a role typecast for him, while David Rendall's plaintive tenor lends distinction to the smaller role of Lurcanio. James Bowman's hooty countertenor will be an acquired taste for some but he is wholly reliable and in character in a role very similar and in the same tessitura as another creepy Handelian lowlife, Ptolemy.
The first, older CD issue provided a libretto whereas the Trio bargain set has only a synopsis. The sound is typical of Philips recordings of that era: warm clear, impeccable. The plot is melodramatic and fast-moving by the standards of Baroque opera beloved of the da capo form. There is a wider variety of musical form and emotion than is the case in some of Handel's less inspired works; this opera remains among his top half dozen and it is unlikely to receive a better recording.