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George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Portraits of mezzo-soprano heroines

Teseo: Overture [4.18]; Dolce risposo (recitativo accompagnato) [3.23]; O stringerò nel sen (aria) [3.32]; Sibilando, ululando (aria) [3.56]; Dunque per vendicarmi (recitativo) [0.55]; Morirò (aria) [4.28]
Hercules: Overture-Minuet [5.59]; Oh Hercules (recitativo accompagnato) [0.52]; The world, when day's career is run (aria) [3.46]; When beauty sorrow's liv'ry wears (aria) [3.03]; Resign thy club (aria) [4.03]; Cease, ruler of the day, to rise (aria) [3.29]; Sinfonia – Act III [3.16]; Where shall I fly! (recitativo accompagnato) [6.25]
Radamisto: Air and Marche [2.27]; Quando mai (cavatina) [2.30]; Troppo sofferse (aria) [1.54]; Son contenta di morire (aria) [4.38]; Fatemi, o cieli, almen (aria) [5.46]
Maria Riccarda Wesseling (mezzo)
Lautten Compagney Berlin/Wolfgang Katschner
Recorded in the Andreas-Kirche Berlin, October 2004
CLAVES 50-2504 [68.38]
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This Claves disc does what many Australian baroque performance discs do: it intersperses arias with overtures and ballet music from the works from which those arias derive. Of course this isn’t a practice confined to the Antipodes or to Switzerland but as a general rule of thumb Anglo-American Handel discs give the soloist a free run at his or her repertoire. Sample recordings by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson or David Daniels and you’ll invariably find them giving their all without interspersed orchestral overtures. Other philosophies tend to turn the recitatives and arias into musically cogent sections that add breadth to the arias that surround them.

That’s Claves’ way with this disc from the promising mezzo Maria Riccarda Wesseling. She is accompanied by a band well known to Capriccio mavens and many others besides, the Lautten Compagney Berlin under conductor Wolfgang Katschner. The repertoire is not at all hackneyed and most of the best-known set-pieces derive from her impersonation of Dejanira from Hercules. Elsewhere we have recitatives and arias from Teseo, in which she sings Medea, and from Radamisto (as Zenobia); the last named is certainly due for increased scrutiny.

My checklist of comments regarding her singing is almost all favourable. This is a clear, clean and well-supported voice; divisions are well taken - O stringerò nel sen from Teseo for example – and there is dramatic infusion when required. Her singing of Morirò from the same opera is full of compelling drama and the accompaniment is equally insightful. She cultivates a true mezzo in the lower part of her voice, in When beauty sorrow liv’ry wears for instance, where one finds her consonants crisp and her English good if not perfect. And she demonstrates, even in the confines of a studio, a talent for "getting it across" – Where shall I fly! is a well known vehicle for the delineation of emotive tension but it still needs an instinct for inflection and timing to give it value, and that’s something Wesseling possesses. As indeed she possesses surety in her lyric phrasing, something one can hear in Quando mai from Radamisto, a first cousin of Ombra mai fu.

The band shows its mettle in its solo outings – lithe strings and flair in the third act Sinfonia from Hercules are a highlight, but they perform well throughout. There are plenty of soprano, mezzo and counter-tenor Handel recitals that are worthy of a place on ones shelves and I think this is another.

Jonathan Woolf

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