Handel's L'Allegro, il Penseroso, ed il Moderato was composed in 1740, and musically it shares much with Messiah, from a couple of years later. It has been comparatively neglected because, in several ways, it does not hang together as well as the later work. Based on a pair of poems by John Milton, L'Allegro (The Joyful One) and Il Penseroso (The Thoughtful One), with a third middle-of-the-road type added by Messiah librettist Charles Jennens (whom one satirist dubbed "Il Moderatissimo"), the work has been called an oratorio, a semi-oratorio, a pastoral ode, and more. It has no plot to speak of, and Handel kept revising the work to suit new performance demands, with the result that its performance tradition has accumulated a large number of random arias. This performance by conductor Paul McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort & Players represents an attempt to reconstruct what Handel intended for the original performance, and far from being an exercise, this results in a concise work with a persuasive alternation of big, Messiah-like choruses and arias that embody the qualities depicted in the poems. For those who love Messiah and have never heard this work, sample the opening chorus-and-bass number on CD 2, "Populous cities please me then," with its big musical spaces. McCreesh introduces each of the work's three sections with an instrumental concerto, something well attested to in the original sources, and he benefits from an exceptionally strong group of soloists who capture the moods essential to what logic the work has. Strongly recommended for anyone interested in going beyond the Handelian basics.
In all respects, Oh-OK was a footnote in the birth of American indie pop, being a group co-led by Lynda Stipe, the bass-playing sister of the singer in a rather more popular band, and featuring singer Linda Hopper, who would go on to form the likable alt-rockers Magnapop, and guitarist Matthew Sweet. That said, they were a really fun footnote, and the two EPs collected here, 1982's Wow Mini Album and 1984's Furthermore What, are agreeable artifacts of their time. Wow Mini Album, recorded in 1982 before Sweet joined the band, consists of brittle bass-and-drums duets overlaid with Hopper's unique, hiccupping vocals. Where other Athens bands like the Method Actors and Pylon created tense music out of similar materials, Oh-OK's tunes are looser and more playful. The childlike "Lilting" spins an array of giddy puns about home perms over a rubbery rhythm akin to something the B-52's might do; like the rest of the songs, it's barely a minute long, but it's a well-formed and complete song, not a fragment. The four songs from Furthermore What are fuller and a bit more structured, with the opening "Such and Such" the ultra-catchy highlight. The nine lo-fi live tracks mix originals from the EPs with covers that aren't particularly unexpected (the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning," Talking Heads' "Psycho Killer") or, it must be said, particularly good. Still, The Complete Oh-OK is a find for collectors of the fringes of American indie pop.