Handel arr Beecham: The Faithful Shepherd

The 3-Act Opera Il Pastor Fido (The Faithful Shepherd) was the second opera composed by Handel after his arrival in England. It was first performed at the Queens Theatre, Haymarket , London in 1712. In 1734 Handel brought out two revisions, one being in the form of an extended Ballet entitled “Terpsichore“. The original “orchestral accompaniment” was very sparse, and was left to the discretion of the harpsichordist, with support from violin and cello. In the Suite, freely arranged for a modern symphony orchestra from Handel’s music, Sir Thomas has followed the form of the 18th century Baroque Suite which was comprised of dance and non-dance movements, with the opening movement being the more “extended” to form an “Overture”.

(1) Introduction and Fugue

A fairly lengthy Lento Moderato in 4/4 is the precursor to the Fugal Allegro in 3/ 4. The theme is immediately introduced by the 1st violins, then the seconds, and the uncomplicated fugue works its way through the orchestra. This movement is scored for woodwind and strings, with a discreet use of the French Horns, mainly as a pedal point.

(2) Adagio

This is a short dramatic piece in D minor, for strings and solo flute.

(3) Gavotte – Allegro Moderato

This takes the traditional form of a four-in-the-measure dance in four-bar phrases, preceded by two upbeats. (The three dance movements included in this Suite are of French origin.)

(4) Bourree – Allegro

Like the Gavotte this is a four-in-the-measure dance, with the phrases preceded by a single upbeat. This movement is in two repeated sections.

(5) Minuet – Moderato

The key of C minor seems to add to the grace of this two-section movement of 32 bars and 48 bars. The opening theme is given to the strings. The second section is marked “tranquillo”. Once again the strings open. Their theme is broader than before, and the grace notes add a lighter touch: Later the cellos have a moment to savour, with the solo cello reiterating the second part of the movement’s opening and heralding the movement’s end.

(6) Pastorale – Andante

The violins, partnered by the violas, state the opening theme of this evocative, lilting 12/8 movement. A second cantabile theme is announced by the oboes, to a gentle rocking accompaniment in the lower strings. These two themes combine to a central climax, supported by sounds of the hunt provided by the French Horns.

This mild climax eventually drifts down into a tranquillo and the movement ends with a re-statement of the opening theme.

(7) Finale Allegro Vivace

This movement falls into four sections. A brisk opening G major theme in 4/4 gives way to a less spirited, but broader, C major theme in 2/4. This in turn gives way to a reprise of the G major theme, and finally the C major theme is lifted into G major. This brings this delightful suite to a close, and trumpets and percussion who have been shown restraint during the preceding movements join in the jollity.