Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Arias from Rinaldo and Orlando

Ewa Podles (contralto)
Moscow Chamber Orchestra/Constantine Orbelian
Rec 6-9 March and 7-12 September 2000
Skywalker Sound, Marin County, CA, USA
DELOS DE 3253 [60.45]
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Venti turbini
Cara sposa
Abbruggio, avvampo e fremo
E un incendio fra due venti
Ogni indugio d'un amante
Or la tomba
Tale stupor m'occupa…Cor ingrato
Il Tricerbero umiliato
Fammi combattere
E questa la mercede…Cielo! Se tu il consenti
Imagini funeste…Non fu gia men forte Alcide
Gia lo stringo
Ah Stigie larve…Gia latra Cerbero…Vaghe pupille

This is an issue likely to divide critical opinion. The Polish contralto Ewa Podles brings to these arias from Rinaldo and Orlando a passionate conviction. Her approach more than once put me in mind of the celebrated English contralto Clara Butt and her remarkable Handel aria discs, from Alessandro and Sosarme, of 1912. Podles' willingness to indulge the slow middle section of, amongst others, Venti turbini is in line with performance practice of earlier generations; certainly her final long, held, chest note - inflammatory and triumphant - is the very opposite of the baroque aesthetic exemplified by, say, Emma Kirkby.

In fact throughout this disc Podles' many virtues and limitations exist in almost bewildering proximity. She sings Ogni indugio d'un amante beautifully, only to end the aria with a crude descent to the baritonal depths which simply diminishes what has gone before. She sings E un incendio fra due venti with great insight and sensitivity whilst Cara sposa is subjected to truly regrettable ornamentation.

Comparison can be made between Podles and the singer who replaced her, following concert performances, in the recent Decca recording of Rinaldo [Decca 467 087-2], the American counter-tenor David Daniels. Daniels, who has previously sung Cara sposa and Venti turbini on record with Roger Norrington [Virgin Veritas 724354532627] sings beautifully, with subtle inflection, and treats the arias as an arc; middle sections are in proper proportion to the whole, rhythms are sprung and taut: Podles' line, by comparison, is constantly bristling and vibrato-laden, as if she sees Handel through the prism of nineteenth century operatic style.

The orchestral balance is rather too backward; conductor and orchestra are resilient if not especially distinctive.

Nevertheless it is a measure of Podles' expressive and dramatic powers that whilst there is much to question in her performances there is also a great deal to admire. Hers is a distinctive and individual talent; whatever else one may feel listening to this disc one will never be bored.

Jonathan Woolf

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