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Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
La Diva - Arias for Cuzzoni
Scipione HWV20 (1726): Scoglio d'immota fronte [5:03]
Giulio Cesare HWV17 (1724): V'adoro pupille [4:39]: Piangero [7:02]: Se pieta di me non senti [9:47]
Alessandro HWV21 (1726): No piu soffrir non voglio [4:01]
Rodelinda HWV19 (1725): Ombre piante (first version) [2:24]: Ahi perche giusto ciel (first version) [6:55]
Siroe Re di Persia HWV24 (1728): Or mi perdo di speranza [4:10]: Mi lagnero tacendo [6:46]: Torrente cresciuto [4:19]
Tolomeo Re di Egitto HWV25 (1728): Fonti amiche [5:00]
Flavio Re di Longobardi HWV16 (1723): Amante stravagante [3:36]
Riccardo Primo Re d'inghilterra HWV23 (1727): Morte vieni [2:45]
Admeto Re de Tessaglia HWV22 (1727): Io ti bacio [3:15]
Simone Kermes (soprano)
Lautten Compagney/Wolfgang Katschner
rec. Teldex Studio, Berlin, August 2008
BERLIN CLASSICS 0016422BC [69:48]
Experience Classicsonline

You can’t seem to get away from Handel compilation discs these days. Mind you, it’s a disease worth putting up with because we have a plethora of distinguished singers - mostly women - who are putting out estimable examples of the genre.

This one is based around the figure of Francesca Cuzzoni, who sang the arias enshrined in this disc in London in the 1720s. She was by contemporary accounts a stunning virtuoso but one who espoused tragic arias just as well. Assuming the role now is that most combustible of sopranos, Simone Kermes, and she is dutifully and adeptly accompanied by that estimable band, the Lautten Compagney, here directed by Wolfgang Katschner.

Kermes has virtuosic athleticism in abundance as the opening aria from Scipione demonstrates graphically. Seldom can Scoglio d'immota fronte have been taken like this. Its declamatory force, its fierce ornaments and contrasting B section all attest to the consummate theatrical animal that Kermes most certainly is. The brazen and also, it’s true, occasionally resinous vocalism is flung out in show stopping style. Of its kind it’s flammable stuff.

But contrasts allow for more clement pleasures, ones in which Cuzzoni herself was supposed to have excelled. V'adoro pupille is one of three arias from Giulio Cesare essayed in the programme and it is appealingly done. By contrast Piangero shows how explicit she makes the contrasts between A and B sections. The rather somnambulant outer sections abut a positively fizzing central panel in which dynamic, theatrical volatility is the name of the game - as well as intensity and a truly florid cadenza. Se pieta di me non senti shows off her immaculate scalar singing and the softening of her tigerish instincts. One of her considerable assets is articulation at speed, with all ancillary musical difficulties accommodated - the aria from Alessandro shows this to a high degree - and here her panache and vivid communicative qualities are also at their most acute. If you’re looking for control of wide dynamics, then look no further than the first of the three arias from Siroe. Sometimes though there is a feeling of non-committal singing - the aria from Tolomeo is a case in point - and some of the slower arias don’t come to life in quite the way the faster, more tensile ones do.

But for powerful extremes, taxing, sometimes exceptional ornaments, and a convulsive approach to the repertoire Kermes has few rivals. It’s not singing for those who prefer more personable, clement vocalism in this repertoire - but there is room in this arena for all sorts of approaches and responses.

Jonathan Woolf


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