"Alexander's Feast," Handel's 1736 setting of Dryden's ode in honor of St. Cecilia's Day (patron saint of music) is a masterpiece and a delight, but its odd length - too long for a mixed program, too short for a full evening - gave Handel trouble and apparently still presents a problem: this is at present the only recording of this inspired work in the catalogue, though some good ones have come and gone. Fortunately, this reissue of the Sixteen's 1990 version is first-rate, in fact the best I ever recall hearing, with chorus, orchestra, soloists and conductor all in top form. Furthermore, music director Harry Christophers has wisely chosen to include the two concerti - one for harp, the other for organ - that Handel inserted in his original performances. Not only do they lengthen the piece to a satisfactory 115', they serve a satisfactory dramatic purpose by representing respectively the power of music in its pagan form - the bard Timotheus's lyre represented by the harp - and Christian - Cecilia's (apocryphal) organ. Both receive sparkling interpretations here.
If you enjoy such Handel works as "L'Allegro..." and "Acis and Galatea," you will certainly enjoy "Alexander's Feast," which finds the composer in peak form, responding with eagerness to the high quality of the English verse before him. And it's hard to imagine a better way to get to know it than this wonderful performance.