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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Georg Friedrich HAENDEL (1685-1759)
Arcadian Duets
Ahi, nelle sorte umane (HWV 179): Dessay / Gens
No, di voi non vuo fidarmi (HWV 189): Claycomb / Panzarella
Caro autor di mia doglia (HWV 182a): Petibon / Agnew
Quel fior che all'alba ride (HWV 192): Panzarella / Petibon
Conservate, raddoppiate (HWV 185): Asawa / Lascarro
Tanti strali al sen mi scocchi (HWV 197): Mingardo / Claycomb
Va, speme infida (HWV 199): Claycomb / Panzarella
A miravi io son intento (HWV 178): Petibon / Mijanovic
Sono liete, fortunate (HWV 194): Mingardo / Claycomb
Natalie Dessay, soprano
Laura Claycomb, soprano
Véronique Gens, soprano
Patricia Petibon, soprano
Juanita Lascarro, soprano
Anna Maria Panzarella, soprano
Sara Mingardo, alto
Marijana Mijanovic, alto
Brian Asawa, countertenor
Paul Agnew, tenor
Le Concert d'Astrée
Director: Emmanuelle Haïm (harpsichord)
Rec: May, July, August 2001, March 2002.
VIRGIN VERITAS 5 45524 2 [62.18]
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I really wanted to like this disc. I am a fan of Handel's music, and have a weakness for great female voices singing this music. On the paper, these chamber duets, sung by some of today's finest singers, looked like a winner. But, alas, I just don't get it.

The second duet on this disc, No, di voi non vuo fidarmi, is a good example of why I don't like this recording. It sounds like the two singers are in the vibrato Olympics. They seem to be playing one-upmanship to see which of them can use more vibrato. It's annoying when one of them overdoes it, but when they both do it together, out of sync, it becomes unbearable. At times the singing takes on the quality of a scream - amplified by close miking. Rather than the two voices melding, as they should in a duet, they seem to be at odds.

This is not a problem with all the duets; some of the singers are more restrained. Tenor Paul Agnew is excellent as always, but in Caro autor di mia doglia Patricia Petibon uses too much vibrato as well (for my liking). She certainly shows off her virtuosity, but her singing does not connect with me - it comes across, at least to my ears, as mechanical and unfeeling.

Petibon is more restrained in Quel fior che all'alba ride, and the mixture of her voice with that of Anna Maria Panzarella is much nicer, but Panzarella's volume is generally lower than Petibon's, and she is too far in the background. But when Petibon's voice cracks at 5:37 in A mirarvi io son intento, the first part of the duet of the same name, it is just too much.

The instrumentalists stay in the background, perhaps too much so. The accompaniment is at times a mere backup for the voices, whereas it should have more presence. The voices tend to be overpowering, being forwardly recorded; this gives an intimate sound, but recesses the instruments.

Others who are less disturbed by vibrato may appreciate this disc, but, for me, it is just not very listenable. The music is great, but the overall rendition is unpleasing. Unconditional fans of Handel or of some of the fine singers present may want to get this disc, and many people may like this kind of singing. But you can't say you weren't warned.

Kirk McElhearn


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