George Frideric Handel: Aci, Galatea e Polifemo. © 2021 note 1 music gmbh

CD Spotlight

Balance and Moderation

Handel's serenata 'Aci, Galatea e Polifemo', heard by GERALD FENECH

'... under the sensitive conducting of Luca Guglielmi, both singers and ensemble are able to display a presence and virtuosity that are just outstanding.'


Unlike his exact contemporary J S Bach, who never ventured more than 200 miles from his German birthplace, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) got around pretty much, especially during the initial phase of his career. From 1706 to 1710, while in his early twenties, he was in Italy, absorbing at first hand the warm-bloodied sensibilities of the South, along with a certain Italian musical litheness, liveliness, smoothness and passionate expressiveness. He did make the rounds: Rome, Venice and, in Naples, on aristocratic commission, he created Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, a dramatic cantata, which sometimes is also labelled a 'serenata'. It was first performed on 19 July 1708, after the Duchess Donna Aurora Sanseverino requested a piece from the composer for the wedding festivities of the Duke of Alvito, Tolomeo Saverio Gallo, and Beatrice Tocco di Montemiletto, Princess of Acaja and niece of the Duchess.

Listen — Handel: Ouverture (Aci, Galatea e Polifemo)
(CD1 track 1, 0:00-2:09) ℗ 2021 note 1 music gmbh :

The libretto, based on Ovid's literary masterpiece, was by Nicola Giuvo, and relates the relationship of the three main characters. This myth, which is taken from Ovid's 13th Book, was dear to many poets from the South of Italy, and the story is set precisely in Sicily. The nymph Galatea loves the young shepherd Aci, and their love arouses Polifemo's jealousy. Galatea refuses Polifemo's advances several times, and the one-eyed giant, enraged, grabs a piece of mountain rock and throws it at Aci, killing him. Galatea begs her father Nereus to turn Aci's blood into a river so that it can finally reach the sea and reunite with her forever.

Listen — Handel: Del Mar Fra L'onde (Aci, Galatea e Polifemo)
(CD2 track 17, 0:00-0:44) ℗ 2021 note 1 music gmbh :

All this drama pans out against a natural landscape that is as beautiful as it is harsh, and the myth invites us to balance and moderation in love as well as in the natural world, accepting its phenomena for what they are. The separation between geometry and exuberance, rationality and natural instability is thin: this is clearly displayed in the elaborate libretto that the twenty-three-year old Handel used to depict his musical landscape. Like in Ovid's myth, Handel's piece is a living element, constantly changing. Indeed, other versions date from 1711, 1713, 1732, 1734, 1736 and 1739, making this 'serenata' the most reworked of Handel's compositions. It is no surprise, then, that the composer used much of this music in his future operas.

Listen — Handel: Ferito son d'amore (Aci, Galatea e Polifemo)
(CD1 track 10, 0:31-1:20) ℗ 2021 note 1 music gmbh :

This version for Senesino, the famous castrato, is based on a manuscript from the British Library in London, and has Aci as an alto and Galatea as a soprano. All arias of these two characters are transposed. Polifemo's part is almost completely re-written, with long accompanied recitatives and new arias. Also, the instrumentation is slightly different from the Neapolitan version. No trumpets are present while a more extended use of woodwinds and recorders is consistently prominent. The music is simply beautiful, and gives a glimpse into the genius of Handel still in his early twenties.

Listen — Handel: Ferito son d'amore (Aci, Galatea e Polifemo)
(CD2 track 8, 7:43-8:40) ℗ 2021 note 1 music gmbh :

Indeed, the piece is abundantly melodic and a treasure-trove of lovely tunes that one never tires of. The performance is an absolute revelation, and under the sensitive conducting of Luca Guglielmi, both singers and ensemble are able to display a presence and virtuosity that are just outstanding. Not the mature Handel, but still highly revealing as to warrant serious consideration. Sound and annotations are first-rate.

Copyright © 5 November 2021 Gerald Fenech,
Gzira, Malta






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