Aci, Galatea e Polifemo was composed in Naples in 1708, apparently for use as a wedding entertainment. It has been overshadowed by the very different (and musically almost totally separate) treatment that Handel later gave the old Sicilian myth of love and jealousyin his English language work, Acis and Galatea. But this earlier Italian venture stands well on its own as Handel's demonstration of mastery of the Neapolitan idiom of the serenata.

This is, to my knowledge, the fourth recording the work has been given: a survey of them will be found in my review of the most recent (M/J 2004). The best of the previous ones was plausibily the one made for Harmonia Mundi (901253, J/F 1988) under Charles Medlam, with Emma Kirkby, Carolyn Warkinson, and David Thomas as the cast. It is now discontinued, though it surely should be reissued. The second recording is a general disaster under Augusto Ciavatta (Dynamic 272: J/F 2002). A welcome remedy to that came in the venture of Emmanuelle Haim (Virgin 45557, M/J 2004), with Sandrine Piau, Sara Mingardo, and Laurent Naouri as the singers.

The Brilliant label's new release is not a reissue, but a completely independent recording made in October 2007. it is admirable, with a cast international in origins but currently Dutch in connections. I find the voice of American-born Sandler more baritonal than "bassal" in a role meant to exploit the low register, but he is genuinely menacing and frustrated as the monster. The role of the male lover, Aci, was written for a soprano castrato, but it works well for musical (if not gender-sound) reasons, and the perky singing of Canadian True has a boyish charm to it. Of Chilean and Swedish background, Mancini has a mezzo-soprano richness that is very handsome and used with great eloquence sometimes.

The hallmark of Haim's recording is her boundless energy, which infuses the whole performance with a restless propulsiveness. Vitale offers a slightly less urgent quality, though everything is shaped intelligently and tellingly. For reasons he explains in his notes, he chooses to deliver some continuo parts only on the harpsichord, played by himself. The 18 other players that make up his orchestra do a fine job, with lovely wind work.

This score has no instrumental introduction. While previous recordings have interpolated one Handel piece or another, Vitale makes no effort in that direction. Otherwise this Brilliant release (with full text and translation in a fine booklet) is one case where bargain price gets you a fully competitive and genuinely satisfying recording.

John Barker

American Recording Guide

September/October 2008