I always approach a Gardiner recording hoping for the same thrill that his Monteverdi Vespers unfailingly give me, and I am disappointed again and again. Too often tempos are wrong-headed, balances are bizarre, soloists erratic, and the leadership deliberately willful. It seems that his flamboyance found perfect expression in Venice's San Marco one week in the late 80s. Since then.....sigh.
I'm giving this disc two stars only because of the Handel Gloria, which is indeed an attractive and inventive little piece, well sung and played. The Vivaldi is unexceptionable. The real outrage is the Dixit Dominus, one of the most vivid and exciting works in the choral repertoire. It's performed here in a languid, disdainful fashion, at tempos that jog peacefully along without urgency and with signers (both choral and solo) who sound barely interested in the force of the text or the drama of its setting. "We sing this sort of thing all the time" is the attitude, and it's deadly to this piece, which notorious for its vocal demands. Making it sound easy makes it sound dull.
Try, instead, Marc Minkowski's recent Deutsche Grammaphon version: it's recorded triumphantly live with soloists who will rock your world, and includes most of the rest of Handel's Italian music. This was a young man seeking to make an impression, and boy does he! Gardiner's Handel sounds like a bored Brill Building hack, pumping out another cantata to pay the rent.