The tercentenary of Handel’s birth produced
a flurry of performances, recordings and broadcasts. Ponto notes
baldly that this production of Radamisto was given in
1984 so without access to listings one can’t be sure but I assume
it was given in that year by the BBC in advance of the busy
year of 1985. It may even have been re-broadcast during the
latter year as well. I assume Ponto had access to the original
circumstances of this studio broadcast so perhaps they’re keeping
of Radamisto is notable for an array of vocal talent headed
by Janet Baker. Every name is familiar and admired. The ECO
was a vibrant presence in the Handel operatic and oratorio market
at this time and Norrington at the helm ensures that period
practices are helpfully integrated into the fabric of a modern
instrument performance – recitatives for instance, once the
bane of some 1960s and 70s performances, move fluidly and intelligently,
highly responsive to textual meaning and dramatic implications.
Note Act I’s Reina, infausto avviso when Tigrane and
Polissena’s recitative embodies fine pacing, telling rubato,
and appropriately coloured accompaniment. Some cuts though
were clearly necessary to accommodate the length of the production.
Eiddwen Harrhy as
Polissena has a vital role to play. She’s given some wickedly
taxing writing early on both in her Act I Cavatina and in Scene
II’s aria Tu vuoi ch’io parta. By the latter she’s settled
down, after earlier initial stridency, and she manages the slow
aria with real eloquence. Lynda Russell has a less dramatic
voice than Harrhy’s though as she shows in Deh, fuggi un
traditore it’s more rounded an instrument as well.
Martyn Hill’s youthful,
eager and sometimes suave voice makes listening to his Tiridate
a pleasure and he brings the same qualities of intimacy and
textual awareness to bear as he does in his recitals of English
Song. He’s shadowed by an especially fine principal trumpet
in Stragi, morti and he dispatches Act III’s Alzo
al volo di mia fama with lyric warmth and vitality. It’s
an aria that combines the martial command of Arm, arm ye
brave from Judas Maccabeus with the limpid generosity of
Acis and Galatea’s Love in her eyes sits playing. Zenobia
is taken by Della Jones whose fiery impersonation and telling
chest voice bring a whiff of gunpowder to the proceedings. Malcolm
King proves a fine, evenly sung and technically impressive Farasmane,
whose aria Son lievi le catene brings out the best in
him. Patrizia Kwella’s appearance ensures a light, tightly focused
and adept voice for Fraarte.
Baker enters with
an especially imposing Cara sposa, amato bene. Her Act
II aria Ombra cara di mia sposa is a kind of microcosm
of Handel’s melodic self-borrowing and prefiguring. It evokes
both Ombra mai fu and also Cara sposa, amante cara
from Rinaldo. She tosses off one of Handel’s characteristic
“ingrate” arias – in this case Act II’s Vanne, sorella ingrata
- with fearless aplomb, managing the divisions with equal control.
And of course she brings moving depth and directness to the
great Act III Scene VII aria Qual nave smarrita.
This isn’t the opera
for extensive duets but there’s one in the final scene of Act
II – Se teco vive il cor – and here Baker and Jones ensure
that their tones blend and differ timbrally wherever necessary.
Baker was long associated
with Handelian performance but her Schoenberg is another matter.
She gives here an undated recital with Paul Hamburger of eight
songs taken from Opp. 2, 3, 6 and 14. Recently a BBC Legends
reissue has given us a Baker-Hamburger recital of songs by Schubert,
Schumann, Strauss and Wolf, which was recorded in London in
1968. Baker discographers will doubtless know better than I
whether this Schoenberg recital comes from the same year though
it’s presumably from the same period. There’s certainly tape
hiss but otherwise reasonable sound quality. The songs all occupy
a late Romantic hinterland and were written within a decade.
Baker and Hamburger find Brahmsian warmth in Erwartung and
excavate light wit alternating with more florid expression in
the splendid Waldsonne. Baker saves her imperious best
for Am Wegrand.
The third piece
in this three CD set is Elgar’s Sea Pictures. Apart from
the Barbirolli a Handley-conducted Baker version has emerged
from much later, 1984, which is the same year that Baker sang
it in Chicago with Solti. There are some marvellous things here.
Solti’s conducting is terrifically exciting. Baker’s
voice has depended since the famous recording and there are,
invariably, changes of emphasis within a broadly similar frame.
For example she elucidates the text of Where Corals Lie
with more considered emphasis than before. Solti goes like the
clappers in The Swimmer and the end is really grand.
That’s where the good news ends. There’s considerable flutter
and distortion on high notes and listening is annoying because
Despite the doubts
over provenance, dating and uneven sound quality this will be
an enticing prospect for Baker admirers. The essay includes
biographical details of her career and also potted biographies
of her fellow cast members. No texts.