Handel’s Acis and Galatea at the Boston Early Music Festival

Even before Handel’s pastoral sinfonia was very far along, I found myself deeply immersed in the human activity I observed on the stage of Jordan Hall. Around the orchestra, who were dressed in unobtrusive modern black, some half dozen creatures of Queen Anne’s day, or, more precisely, early Hanoverian days, busied themselves about a capacious drawing-room, until five of them came together to sing the opening chorus, “Oh the pleasure of the plains,” evoking the landscape around Cannons. Actually they were looking into a pastoral landscape painting, its back to the audience. (At the end it was turned to reveal the composition.) While pictures were brought in and set on an easel for appreciation and perhaps purchase—the absence of a permanently hung gallery suggested that the house was not yet finished—two gentlemen at either end of the stage worked away at writing: one, Mr. Handel, was setting down notes, and the other—actually two, Mr. Gay and Mr. Pope—words. What was so absorbing about this was not so much the business itself, which is familiar enough even in early eighteenth century dress, but the mood.

Purcell and Handel with Andreas Scholl & Co.

Most seem to agree musical historicism can go too far: imagine a Plymouth Plantation-style re-enactment of a concert of Baroque music with the audience coming and going, eating picnics in the gods, a musician wearing a modern watch dismissed as a “farb.” Luckily most musical historicists are more practical and flexible. For this concert the hall lights stayed up, which is a nice touch, even if electrics are not as pretty as the candle-lit halls of days past. Unfortunately, and I assume unintended by the musicians, the audience did come and go in between the first several songs, which not only rudely made the musicians wait but disrupted the flow of the program, and one woman, having missed three or four songs, came clumping down the wood-floored aisle in high-heels making an incredible noise. More cheerfully, Mr Scholl had the audience join in on the refrain of Purcell’s Man is for the Woman Made, which, according to Mr Scholl, is what Purcell intended when he originally composed it, for light relief in the theatre. And it did provide some short refreshing relief among the quite serious music in this program.

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