The "Ode for St. Cecilia's Day" has been very lucky on record and CD, going way back to a pretty wonderful performance on the Argo label with David Willcox and the ASMF. Before this new Hyperion CD came along, my favorite digital recording was the one from Philip Ledger on ASV. It is still a fine performance and recording, though I find both soloists--Robert Tear and Jill Gomez--acquired tastes, let's just say.
No need for such strictures with the new recording from Robert King. Past CDs have led us to expect masterful Handel from King and his groups, but this really is in a special class. First, his soloists are not merely committed but are in splendid voice throughout. And chorus and orchestra have this music in their hearts and souls. As an example of the music making on this disc, just listen to the first aria, "When Nature underneath a heap of jarring atoms lay." Quite simply, the atoms have never leaped so athletically and convincingly to their appointed stations. This is Handel as he should be performed. If you don't know this piece, then you're missing a work with arias and choruses that are hardly a cut below the great ones from Solomon, Israel in Egypt, or even The Messiah.
A much more intimate affair is the Italian cantata "Cecilia, volgi un sguardo" written as a makeweight for the original performance of Handel's other, bigger Cecilian cantata of 1736, "Alexander's Feast" (like the Ode, based on the poetry of John Dryden). The music was composed for leading Italian singers of the day, one of them Handel's favorite soprano at the time. So the music, for all its quiet dignity, has some fairly flamboyant coloratura passages. Sampson and Gilchrist have no trouble with these rigors and sing with the same beauty of tone in Italian that they manage in English. The long, lovely final duet "Tra amplessi innocenti" provides a special showcase for their talents.
Working in a London church, the Hyperion engineers offer up a stunning sound recording. This is now the version of Handel's great Ode to own and cherish.