Pamela Dellal, mezzo soprano

 

uncommon intelligence, imagination and textual awareness...
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Miscellaneous Notes

G.F. Handel: "As Pants the Hart," H. 251b
(Chandos Anthem 6)

Handel spent a couple of years (1717 – 1718) as resident composer at Cannons, the home of James Brydges (later known as the Duke of Chandos).  He wrote nearly a dozen large-scale anthems during his tenure as well as the masque Acis and Galatea and Esther, considered the first oratorio in English. Though the scoring of the Anthems - violins, continuo and a few wind instruments – reflects the modest resources available to Handel at Cannons, these pieces are nevertheless astonishingly inventive and rich in detail; they are unquestionably the forerunners of the large-scale pieces that were to come.

The text of today’s anthem, As Pants the Hart, is extracted from the moving Psalm 42. The natural images, analogous to the literal thirst for a living God inspired Handel to write some of his best music of the period. As Pants the Hart has a complicated history; it appeared first in a version for chorus and continuo alone; there are at least four subsequent arrangements suggesting that Handel thought highly of the music. Today we hear an early version scored for a three-voice chorus and soloists, without the violas that would not have been available at Cannons).

As Pants the Hart opens with a dramatic two-part Sinfonia. There is impressive concerto style writing for strings and oboe. Parts of this piece may date back as early as 1712 when Handel - still new to London - was taking in the English church music tradition.  The opening motet-style chorus seems particularly influenced by Purcell; the chromatic counter point and frequent suspensions align beautifully with the melancholic longing of the text. A short halting postlude for stings fades away almost to nothing. In the soprano aria ‘Tears’ the dialogue between oboe, bassoon and strings sets a wonderful tone in which the singer becomes a fourth player. A short accompanied tenor recitative moves immediately into a chorus, the first in a major key, a short blaze of brilliant counterpoint. A duet for alto and tenor is remarkable both for its beautiful characterization of grief and disquietude as well as the way in which the two voice parts cross over and under each other. The final chorus is indebted to the Italian concerto grosso style. Arcangelo Corelli led the orchestra for Handel’s La Resurrezione in Rome (1709). A classic Corelli bass line becomes the motivic basis for the entirely brilliant finale.

-Michael Beattie