The American Classical Orchestra concluded its Handelfest 2014 at Alice Tully Hall with a terrific concert that featured rare gems from the great composer George Frederick Handel. The centerpiece of the entire performance was the semi-opera Alceste which was staged and choreographed to stunning effect.

The Alceste was reserved for the second half of the program, while the first featured two concertos and a chorale "Jubilate." The first concerto a due cori in B-flat major was a wonderful selection to start of the concert. Conductor Thomas Crawford managed to create a delicate balance between the strings and winds that permeated the work's three movements; every color was audible in the sonorous hall. The tempi all had a propulsive feel to them that added to the energetic character of the concerto.

The concerto a due cori in F major followed and featured a horn section that had not been present for the first concerto. Unfortunately, the horns were sloppy in their execution throughout. Furthermore, their sounds often washed out the remaining winds and the overall piece lacked the tonal architecture of the concerto preceding it. The strings did shine throughout this work however, especially in the central largo; their sighing passages giving the piece a tragic dimension.

The ensuing Jubilate, HWV 279, featured four soloists in some of its movements. The first soloist was alto Solange Merdinian, who sang with an earthy tone; her opening phrase was a splendid swell that resonated throughout the hall. During the third movement "Be ye sure that the Lordi Is God," alto Amanda Crider and bass Timothy McDevitt engaged in a wonderful duet. This particularly movement is filled with intimacy as it features a solo violin and wind to collaborate with the vocal duo. Another memorable moment in the Jubilate was the fifth movement "For the Lord is gracious," which featured the two altos and bass Joseph Beutel. The two altos blended beautifully with one another while Beutel's voice soared gloriously on an extended note. In the following movement "Glory be to the Father," the entire American Classical Orchestra Chorus filled the auditorium with vibrant sound; one could almost feel the theater shake with the organ-like sound coming from the stage. The strings have busy passagework throughout this section that starts forte and slowly diminuendos as the phrase comes to a close; this particular effect was powerful in its execution.

As noted above, the second half featured the Alceste with soprano Marguerite, tenor Randall Bills, bass Robert Balonek and two dancers; Lindsey Jones played Alceste while Weaver Rhodes played her lover Admetus. The staging managed to balance the importance of the dancers and the singers and create a concise vision for the story. Jones and Rhodes were extremely expressive in their movements, mirroring one another beautifully in the opening wedding festivities and engaging in a heart-rendering kiss while moving about, their lips remaining locked as their bodies twirled about. One particularly memorable moment for the two dancers came in the middle of the performance. Alceste has been taken to Hades and is remembering her beloved. The chorus is lined up upstage; Admetus appears behind them almost like a memory. He starts to move about and she mirrors his movement; despite being in completely different worlds they are still inseparable.

As Hercules, Bills sang with tremendous polish and made the difficult sound easy. His light tenor threw off the numerous coloratura passages that dominated his arias without any sign of fatigue or weariness. His stoic presence throughout expressed the character's heroic status brilliantly.

Krull took on the role of the muse Caliope and was more of a mixed bag. Her middle voice was radiant and lush; this was particularly apparent during her wonderful aria "Gentle Morpheus, son of night" where she sang with gentle legato lines. Her coloratura in the second aria "Come, Fancy, empress of the brain" featured solid coloratura passagework that was filled with nuance. The security in Krull's voice did come into question however whenever she had to enter into her upper range; the brightness of the middle voice turning instead into a more strained and grainy sound.

However, the big scene stealer was Balonek. He only got to sing one aria the entire evening, but he made the most of it. His virulent bass thundered throughout the hall creating an ominous atmosphere and perfectly describing the dark world of Hades. When his section came to an end, the bass received well-deserved bravos from the audience.

None of the pieces on the program are regularly performed. But the execution of the American Classical Orchestra made a compelling case for the place of these works within the standard repertoire to be reconsidered.