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Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Italian Cantatas and other works.

Mi palpita il cor-Cantata for alto, flute nad continuo, HWV 132c, [12:00]
Suite in E major for harpsichord, HWV 430 (1720) [12:57]
Irene, idolo mio-cantata for alto and continuo, HWV 120b [11:35]
Sonata in D major for flute and continuo HWV 378 [6:23]
Lungi da me, pensier tiranno!-Cantata for alto and continuo HWV 125b [11:53]
Air from the Water Music, HWV 464 [1:54]
Fra pensiere quell pensiero-cantata for alto and continuo, HWV 115 [7:00]
Marie-Nicole Lemieux, contralto
Luc Beauséjour, harpsichord
Marie-Céline Labbé, baroque flute
Amanda Keesmaat, baroque cello
Recorded at Saint-Augustin-de-Mirabel church, Canada, February 4-6, 2000. DDD,
ANALEKTA FL 2 3161 [64:18]
Error processing SSI file

 

Although in reality very brief, Handelís time in Italy (1706-1710) represents one of his most productive periods. During this tenure, Handel frequently returned to Rome, which is a mystery to many musicologists, as he would have had no opportunity to perform or compose opera there, the genre being banned at the time in that city. His sixty or so Italian cantatas were written primarily for private Roman audiences. Scholars debate as to whether or not the cantatas were a harbinger of Handelís operatic style. Evidence toward this conclusion lies in the composerís life-long habit of borrowing from earlier works. Much of the material found in the cantatas turns up in later operas. On the other hand, some cite the frequent use of chromatic melodies, contrapuntal settings and other gestures intended to point up subtleties in the texts as evidence of the stylistic originality of these pieces.

The keyboard suite presented here dates from 1720, and is a response to the unauthorized publication of some of his other harpsichord works. That the rhythmic hammering of a blacksmith inspired the fourth movement air and variations is a legend of nineteenth century invention. Originally attributed to Johann Sigismund Weiss (c.1690-1737), the authenticity of the Sonata in D for flute and continuo was proven by Handelís own self-borrowing habit. Themes from this sonata exist in two earlier works, composed before Handel and Weiss actually met. The air from Water Music is a transcription of Handelís own making.

The star of this excellent recital is contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux. Recently the winner of a number of prestigious competitions, this singer from Quebec is starting to enjoy a wide-ranging international career. Hers is the rich, warm contralto of the Maureen Forrester tradition, a rare thing indeed these days. She approaches baroque music with a full throated sound, and shies away from the "early music" affects that clutter a great deal of current performances. She leaps into these melodramatic texts and portrays them with intense passion, thus granting some credibility to what could otherwise be deemed as eighteenth century soap opera material. One is only disappointed in her singing when she attempts coloratura. While her legato singing is glorious, the roulades in the faster passages simply are not clean enough to be satisfying. They sound a bit too labored and I found myself working with her to get through them instead of marveling at their execution. Perhaps a little less of the Forrester approach here and a bit more of Marilyn Horneís legendary passagework would improve matters.

Luc Beauséjour is not only a fine accompanist, but his solo playing is one of the high points of this recital. He plays with a grace and elegance that is delightful to hear. Although his virtuosity is apparent, he never shoves it to the foreground. Instead he lets the music speak for itself, rollicking along with it when appropriate, singing into it in the more lyrical moments. He shines in whatever role he is playing on this disc. Marie-Céline Labbéís flute playing is stylish and elegant, although I might have wanted for a little less decay at the ends of some phrases. She produces a lovely tone. Amanda Keesmaat is a solid continuo cellist, giving exactly what is needed to the ensemble.

Analektaís engineers have done splendid work. I was particularly pleased that the harpsichord was recorded in a natural ambience, not over amplified. Face it; the harpsichord is a light delicate instrument that was more at home in salons than concert halls. Nothing is more annoying than hearing this instrument with a microphone shoved down its throat. Balances are perfect and this is one enjoyable listen.

Last but not least, this is one of the best program booklets to come across my desk in some time. The notes are excellent, we are provided with full translations and the cover art is beautiful. Other labels should take note: this is how it is supposed to be done!

Kevin Sutton


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